As police seize passports from football fans with banning orders in a bid to reduce trouble at this year’s World Cup Finals, Tony Durkin speaks to two football bosses who saw notorious Russian hooligans in action two years ago
Passports have been confiscated from 69 Lancashire football fans to stop them travelling to the World Cup in Russia this summer.
The move is part of a nationwide clampdown on potential violence ahead of the tournament and has seen banning orders handed out to fans previously convicted of football-related offences.
But some of those caught up in ugly scenes of violence in Marseille the last time England played at a major tournament – Euro 2016 in France – say grounding English fans alone will not prevent trouble from breaking out.
AFC Fylde chairman David Haythornthwaite was caught up in an ‘onslaught’ two years ago when England fans were targeted by foreign hooligans and hopes to travel to Russia if England get through to the last 16.
He said: “The trouble in Marseille was a pre-meditated attack on England fans for which the French police weren’t ready.
“Keeping known troublemakers away obviously helps the situation but I am not sure it eradicates the potential for trouble.
“Having travelled to many such tournaments, including South Africa, where we were warned to be especially careful, I have found that if you aren’t looking for trouble you can usually avoid it.
“I think in Russia, a lot will depend on the actions and attitude of the Russian police and authorities and whether visiting fans will get the necessary protection if any incidents occur.”
And Fleetwood Town chairman Andy Pilley, who was also caught up in violence in France feels it will ‘make no difference’ and that the key to a trouble-free tournament is better intelligence about the movements of the host country’s supporters.
Mr Pilley is going to Russia for part of the tournament and hopes there is no repeat of the scenes in Marseille two years ago, when he, his son Jamie and a group of Fleetwood fans were caught up in a melee ahead of England’s 1-1 draw with Russia, which left one England fan critically ill in hospital and up to 20 others hurt.
He said: “I was in the stadium with my son Jamie, and I was worried for his welfare. I saw Russians with iron bars and knuckle dusters.
“What happened in the stadium was a disgrace, security was virtually nonexistent and there were women and children in there.
“But the England fans were in no way to blame and the criticism of them there was in the media at the time is unfair.
“I don’t think these banning orders will make any difference to the situation over there.
“The vast majority of England fans are going out there to have a good time and violence involving England fans is very rare indeed these days.
“I think what is key in this tournament is ensuring the best possible intelligence about the movements of the Russian fans.
“What I saw in France were some of the worst scenes in many years of supporting England but I am hopeful lessons will have been learned.”
Fans with a football banning order are not allowed to travel to overseas England matches or to go abroad, unless given an exemption.
Police have also warned anyone involved in football-related antisocial behaviour during the World Cup could receive a banning order.
Supt Julian Platt of Lancashire Police said: “In the past there has been a small minority of supporters across the country who have engaged in football related disorder at home and abroad.
“Lancashire as part of a national response have visited those individuals and removed their passports where we have had the power to do so.
“We will continue to be part of this joined up approach throughout the tournament.”
Fans following the tournament on TV at home are also being urged by the police to not get carried away in the heat of the moment as England bid for World Cup success for the first time in 52 years.
As part of a concerted campaign on possible disorder during the World Cup, posters and banners are highlighting three key areas of crime that are often associated with major sporting tournaments – domestic abuse, alcohol related violence and drink or drug driving.
Supt Platt added: “We want people to enjoy the World Cup responsibly and the vast majority of people will do that.
“But I want to reassure our communities that any crime linked with the World Cup, be that domestic abuse, alcohol-induced violence or drink or drug driving will simply not be tolerated.
“We understand that people will want to drink alcohol while watching the games but we would urge people to drink responsibly and of course drinking or taking drugs when driving is unacceptable.
“We will continue to carry out regular enforcement activity and take action against those who continue to break the law.”