When rival English soccer teams meet for their regular weekend matches, much of the rowdiest action often takes place off the field. In the stands, supporters of opposing sides regularly attack each other, and, in the streets outside, drunken fans terrorize bystanders. The British call them “football hooligans,” and in London this week, Parliament was scheduled to begin debate on a controversial bill aimed at stamping out their violent activities. The proposed law would require fans to obtain a photo identity card in order to attend games—and would allow authorities to keep convicted troublemakers out of stadiums.
But the proposal has aroused concern. Football League officials, who oversee professional teams, say that the plan will cost as much as $150 million and cut attendance by at least 20 per cent. League president Jack Dunnett said that the government’s own figures—which show that there were 6,147 arrests at soccer matches in England and Wales last season, with a total attendance of 18 million—prove that
such a radical step is not necessary.
The plan itself, which is to take effect in April, 1990, is complex. With a few exceptions for such groups as the disabled, fans who try to attend games in England and Wales without an identity card could be jailed for a month or fined $840. Anyone convicted of a football-related offence could be barred from games for up to five years. And, in a bid to stop English troublemakers from clashing with foreign soccer fans, the bill would require convicted hooligans to
report to authorities in Britain on days
when English teams play on the continent.
Government officials have expressed hope that the proposed measure will prevent a repeat of the most notorious incident of hooliganism: the May, 1985, riot at Belgium’s Heysel Stadium. Then, Liverpool fans attacked supporters of the Italian Juventus team, and, in the panic that followed, 39 people were crushed to death. The riot prompted European soccer authorities to ban English teams from competing in the rest of Europe. But after the identity-card bill became public, those officials said that they could lift the ban as soon as next year. For the British government, and much of the public, that would lift the cloud of shame that has hung over their national game.
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