U.K. police in Ukraine to monitor England supporters for the team’s opening European Championship match with France today said they’re worried about other countries’ fans donning the team’s shirts and causing trouble.
“We have worked very hard to make sure that England fans are policed appropriately and if England fans do engage in disorder that we know about it and are able to deal with that,” Assistant Chief Constable Andy Holt, leading a 14-member British police contingent, told reporters outside the Donbass Arena. “What I don’t want to do is have England fans mislabeled, and misidentified because it’s some other nationality wearing England shirts.”
Between 3,000 and 4,000 fans have bought tickets through the English soccer federation’s official allocation. Others have arranged to travel to European soccer’s top national team competition independently. The numbers are far lower than the 40,000 fans that traveled to Germany for the 2006 World Cup, the last European-based tournament England qualified for.
English hooliganism that hampered tournaments including the 1998 World Cup and Euro 2000 has subsided as U.K. authorities prevent known troublemakers from traveling to watch the national team’s games.
At the 2004 European Championship about 400 of the team’s followers clashed with Portuguese riot police on successive nights in the Algarve resort of Albufeira. England fans didn’t cause serious trouble at the World Cup in Germany.
The popularity of England’s Premier League has helped boost the national team’s following in eastern Europe, fans said.
Greg Tashchiyan, 23, said he came by road with 25 friends from Rostov-na-Donu, about 250 kilometers from Donetsk.
“Petrol prices are so cheap so there will be maybe as many as 10,000 people from Russia for this game,” Tashchiyan, a fan wearing a white England shirt, said in an interview as he waded through a fountain yards from the 49,400-seat stadium.
Other Russians said they’d traveled from Sevastopol and Krasnodar. Another England-supporting group made a 1,000- kilometer (620 miles) trek from Belarus for today’s game.
“There are many Russians who support English clubs so if you support an English club then automatically you’ll be supporting the English team,” Tashchiyan said.
Last week European soccer’s governing body opened an investigation after a group of Russian fans attacked stewards at their team’s opening game against the Czech Republic in Wroclaw, Poland. Four stewards required hospital treatment. Anti-racism campaigners said Czech defender Theodor Gebre Selassie was the target of “monkey chants” during the game.
“So you can imagine we will be very careful to ensure that if there are any problems, we identify the provenance of who we are dealing with,” said Holt.
To contact the reporters on this story: Tariq Panja at the Donbass Arena in Ukraine via the London newsroom on firstname.lastname@example.org;
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Christopher Elser at at email@example.com