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Hooligans, What Hooligans

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Hooligans, What Hooligans

 
Old 06-03-2002, 11:08 AM
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SAITAMA, Japan (Reuters) - The good citizens of Saitama are scratching their heads and wondering what all the fuss was about.


Just 24 hours ago they had been living in fear. Lurid media reports of an invasion of England soccer hooligans for their team's opening World Cup game against Sweden had created a siege mentality in this ordinary commuter town just north of Tokyo.


Shopkeepers were getting ready to shutter their stores. Locals formed a 400-strong "vigilance committee" to patrol the streets and protect children from marauding hooligans.


But then nothing happened. Fans came in their thousands, enjoyed the game and went on their way. The sun rose as usual over Saitama on Monday.


"We were afraid before the game but they seemed very gentlemanly. From what we saw they were all behaving normally," said Makoto Saito.


"Personally I wasn't afraid. We saw lots of England fans around and the shops were open for business as usual," Saito, 47, added. "But we'd seen pictures of crowd trouble on TV so that led to the image we had of them all as hooligans."


In fact, Britain forced more than 1,000 known hooligans to surrender their passports for the duration of the finals and passed the names of several hundred more troublemakers to the Japanese immigration authorities.


As a result, those who made the long, expensive trip were interested in soccer, not sacking Saitama.


"Yesterday there was no trouble at all and it finished safely. Our headquarters sent security guards, but as there was no trouble, they soon left. So I'm not especially worried," said bar manager Nobuaki Watanabe, 25.


Aki Sato even lifted a glass with some of them and lived to tell the tale.


"We live near a lot of bars and there were England fans drinking near our house yesterday," Sato, 30, said. "But they were in high spirits and there was absolutely no trouble."


Sato's only complaint was about the thousands of police on duty in case of trouble. "There are too many police around so the atmosphere is a bit oppressive," she said.


NOISY EQUALS HOOLIGAN


Saitama's fears had been fueled by graphic video footage of England supporters running riot in Charleroi in Belgium during the European championships in 2000 and in Marseilles at the 1998 World Cup in France.


But quiet, orderly Japanese found it hard to understand that even ordinary fans like to get in the mood for a match by chanting and cheering on their way to the stadium, perhaps with a beer or two in hand.


"People who know football and young people don't seem worried about fans being noisy, but older people equate that behaviour with hooliganism," said Shuhei Hisada, 25.


Even Hisada, though, wondered how the England fans might have reacted if their team had not hung on for a 1-1 draw. "If they'd lost, maybe they would have been more boisterous," he said.


For Harue Yoshida, 57, whose coffee shop is located along the way to the stadium, Sunday's exuberance was unsettling enough.


"I'm still worried. There are three more games at Saitama stadium, so depending on how things go, I may still close early," she said.


Not that Japan itself is a complete stranger to rowdy soccer fans. The hard-nosed fans of local J-league side Urawa Reds are known for throwing things on to the pitch and, a few years ago, even went on the rampage in the nearby town of Omiya.


"Urawa Reds have hooligan troubles of their own," admitted Saito.
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Old 06-03-2002, 03:38 PM
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It was really good that there was no trouble in Saitama , but I wouldn't start counting my chickens just yet!

I think that if there is going to be trouble, it is most likely to come on Friday in Sapporo against Argentina....... A loss or a win could be all the spark that is needed to set things off there .....

Let's keep our fingers crossed that there is no trouble and that we stuff the Argentinians 2-0
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