Football: EURO 2000: Threat of Hooligans Haunts the Jamboree ; Can the Dutch Deliver? Will France Fall from Summit? Will England Pose a Threat on the Pitch? the Sub-Plots Add Mystery and Drama
Lawton, James, The Independent (London, England)
WITH THEIR blue and yellow paint-smeared faces, their Viking headgear and money belts, they were not exactly embraced by cafe society. But when the Swedes clumped happily away into the dusk here in Brussels yesterday they left the distinct and heady impression that they had come to watch football rather than provoke the outbreak of World War Three.
The citizens of Charleroi, 34 miles down the road, will be glad to settle for as much next Saturday when England's version of a gathering of football fans moves into town for the openly dreaded collision with Germany. The same will be true of Eindhoven, with its potentially hostile Turkish population, when England play Portugal on Monday night.
You don't have to be morbidly pessimistic to find the prospect gut-wrenching. The Swedish conclave in the grand square here could only heighten an Englishman's angst. It was a reminder of football's distant past - and it came with almost a jolt. Also with more than a touch of anger. Anger that it is impossible to be in the company of England's football team without a terrible drag on the spirit. Here, as we are supposed to celebrate the dawn of Euro 2000, and the virtuoso skills of men like Thierry Henry of France and Raul of Spain, not to mention David Beckham and Michael Owen of England, the weight of deja vu is quite appalling.
We are told constantly that the majority of English fans are concerned only with cheering on the lads. No doubt this is, forlornly, true. But how widely and perniciously do the minority put themselves about. They have created down the years a body of memory that makes the sight of young Swedes enjoying themselves without offence to those into whose city they have entered as though dressed for some barbecue celebration of the midnight sun haunting to English eyes. It was a way we were back before the lemming march of the hoolie. Before the great Tottenham manager, Bill Nicholson, was required to go on to the public address system at Feyenoord's stadium and, with a cracking voice, tell rioting Spurs fans: "You make me ashamed to be an Englishmen." That was 27 years ago, and what has changed? Two years ago this virulent minority behaved in Marseilles in a way that made England's continued World Cup 2006 bid look like a bad case of amnesia. It makes you wonder all over again about the temerity of the Home Secretary, Jack Straw, the other day telling officials of the co-hosts, Belgium and the Netherlands, of their obligation to severely punish anyone found guilty of causing disorder. It was the equivalent of preaching chastity in your own bordello.
At worst it is an obscenity, at best a desperate, wearying distraction from a tournament which, if it lacks the obvious means to be great - no Cruyff or Platini threatens to dazzle the battlefield - is full of fascinating sub-plots. Can the Dutch deliver , for the first time in 12 years - they won in 1988 with the thrilling axis of Gullit, Rijkaard and Van Basten - a series of performances which begin to match the level of their talent, and at the same time rebuke the cynic who this week wondered whether the decor in the team hotel might trigger a flash mutiny? …