The Bratislava pack

When Ian Cusack moved to Slovakia, he didn't expect to befollowed by No Surrender

England v Turkey: a grand total of  just over 200. Arrests? Tooled-up Category C Top Boys? Scimitar-wielding descendants of Saladin bent on Bratislavan Intifada? Actually, it was the crowd, outnumbered at least three to one by the local riot police. Looked mighty impressive in a 40,000 all-seat stadium.

Having moved to the Slovak capital Bratislava last September, whichever bright spark at UEFA decided to give this year’s European Under-21 Championship to Slovakia had me on his side. However, events involving Galatasaray and both Leeds and Arsenal in the UEFA Cup stirred up a distinct sense of unease when England were drawn in the same qualifying group as Turkey, as well as the hosts and Italy.

A friend invited to a pre-tournament sherry reception for the England squad at the British ambassador’s gaff was told that no serious hooligans were expected, with the real tournament in Belgium and the Netherlands on the horizon. Nevertheless, the atmosphere in Slovan’s vast blue, concrete bowl (neighbours Inter provide the majority of the Slovak national side, so the hosts opted to  play their games in that 13,000 capacity arena) as England slid to an abject 2-0 defeat against a fluent Italian side, was hideous.

It only took a dozen beered-up, Stone Island-clad nutters screaming: “Do the fucking spick cunts” 20 times a minute to make both the riot police and ordinary fans  nervous. On the way out, England's finest, about 20-strong, marched away chanting “No Surrender to the IRA”, which was a bit lost on the locals. One of our group, wearing a 1961-era replica shirt, was accosted by one of the brave lads: “Come on Spurs, let’s do the cunts.” We made an excuse and left.

I went to the Italy game as part of a group of 17, the majority of whom were Slovak. The dire football, an unseasonably cold snap (temperatures dropped from 31C to 12C in three days), the English yobs and a local media rumour of 5,000 Turkish hooligans on their way, conspired to cancel all police leave in western Slovakia and trim our group to five when England met Turkey.

Logically, there was no way  the Turks could have turned up in numbers. They need a visa to enter Slovakia and their embassy said applications had been “negligible”. Even the vast numbers of Turkish guest workers in Austria were unlikely to travel. Austrian citizenship, even pre-Haider, has always been an elusive beast.

As we made our way to the Slovan stadium,  while Slovaks and Italians headed for a simultaneous kick-off at Inter, there  were groups of surly youths standing around, trying to create an intimidating atmosphere but failing. Camera-wielding Slovan skinheads, all White Power and Skrewdriver patches, not to mention Chelsea and Rangers shirts, were  huddled disappointedly around bus stops. There had been no serious “offs”, in fact no trouble at all, for them to scan on to their websites. They were either going to have to go home or watch a game.

The match? Turkey were dreadful. Nicky Weaver proved he’s Man City's best hope of staying up next year and Frank Lampard oozed class. Six-nil was hardly flattering. Best of all, my new home town didn't get trashed.

From WSC 161 July 2000. What was happening this month