Final reminder

Sean Hanson witnessed complacency turn to confrontation at the UEFA Cup final

It is 2.40pm, the day after the rotten night before. I have just got up, having arrived home from Copenhagen at about 5.30am and gone straight to bed. On the radio I hear that the police are blaming Arsenal fans for not dispersing fast enough; that the Arsenal fans are blaming the Turks; that the FA representatives are blaming, well, just about everybody except themselves. I hear that England should consider pul­ling out of Euro 2000 and withdraw their bid for the 2006 World Cup.

Everyone seems to want to find one group to blame for the disgusting half hour of mayhem in the square in Copenhagen. What worries me is that, amid all the hysterical cries for English and Turkish clubs to be banned from international competitions, and other knee-jerk responses, the lessons of the Eighties and early Nineties have not been learned.

The lessons are that the only way to prevent violence is to anticipate the worst, keep a close watch on what is happening in the build-up and organise the event so that any opportunities for the thugs to do their work are kept to a minimum. That is where the real problem was in Cop­enhagen. Despite statements to the con­trary by UEFA, the Danish authorities and the various police forces, everyone seems to have crossed their fingers and hoped.

Before the game, the police insisted they were ready for any eventuality. It was reported that the British intelligence units responsible for watching known hooligans were liaising closely with their Danish and Turkish counterparts. The message that came across to fans was: don’t worry, we will be ready. But that is not my experience. They weren’t ready at all.

When I arrived in Copenhagen at about 11am on an Arsenal charter flight, there was an almighty cock-up with the coaches chartered to take fans to the city centre, so that hundreds of Galatasaray and Arsenal supporters were left milling around the airport bus terminus, with no police and very poor stewarding by both clubs.

When we were eventually picked up and deposited in the city centre, I found myself in the main Town Hall square where groups of rival fans were sitting out under large umbrellas or haggling with the T-shirt and flag sellers. Where the main pedestrianised street, Strøget, joins the square, the road is very narrow. At the junction there is a pub, outside which were dozens of Arsenal supporters. I found out later that it was near here that an Arsenal fan had been stabbed the night before. There were a few riot police, who seemed calm. The locals seemed more curious than anything. No one seemed threatened.

The road widens and as it joins another square there is a pub called The Dubliner. Again, this was an Ars­enal pub, full to brimming. Just beyond there was a tightly bunched and very loud group of about 100 Galatasaray supporters, chanting, singing and flag-waving. There was a little bit of taunting, but by and large it looked like the rival fans weren’t having any real problems with each other.

I went inside to get a drink and it was about half an hour before I went outside again. The Turks had vanished, but no one seemed concerned. I set off back in the direction of the main square but was cut off by a line of riot police. I took a circuitous route around the block but the road was again barred by police. Next thing I knew people were running past me, holding their shirts up over their faces. Everyone was sneezing. It has been a long time, but coming from Derry I know the effects of tear gas, so I ran.

I found a pub, again full of Arsenal supporters. It started to rain and everyone went inside. On a large screen Sky News was broadcasting live from just around the corner. As the pub filled up the chanting changed from the normal Arsenal chants to renditions of “You’re just a bunch of back-stabbing bastards”. I looked around to see a group of fans not wearing Arsenal shirts or anything else to identify them. They began chants of “Enggerlaaand” and a rendition of Land of Hope and Glory. I left when they started pointing themselves out on the TV replays of the violence on the screen.

So what happened? From what I can piece together, the group of Galatasary supporters outside The Dub­liner, whether at some signal or because they knew something had kicked off elsewhere, had set off to­wards the square. As they approached the bottleneck at the pub the police panicked and tried to keep the two sides apart.

Bottles were thrown and then all hell broke loose, spilling out into the square. Arsenal supporters were trapped between the oncoming crowd of Turks and those already in the square. From somewhere a large group of English fans ran in to join the fray. The rest we could see from the TV.

Any number of straightforward measures would have reduced the possibility of violence. The Danish authorities could have closed the pub at the junction with the square, particularly since there had been violence there the night before. The police could have intervened earlier. Why was there no one tracking the Turkish and Eng­lish fans who were clearly not the supporters of either club?

We had been told that intelligence officers had been following their movements. Where the hell were they? And why were there no Arsenal stewards any­where to be seen, to give advice to and liaise with the fans, most of whom were appalled and frightened when that brief and now infamous incident occurred?

All I can say to genuine supporters travelling to Euro 2000 is have a good time and take a lot of care. And if you are looking for protection from the authorities, don’t believe them if they say they can prevent this type of thing from happening.

From WSC 161 July 2000. What was happening this month