A Soccer Hooligan Gets Life : British Judge Imposes Harsh Penalty on Fan for Riotous Behavior

Associated Press

A 25-year-old soccer hooligan fought furiously with prison officers Friday after being jailed for life for riotous behavior, the first time in Britain that a judge had imposed such a harsh sentence for fan violence.

Relatives screamed from the public galleries, and one man leaned over and shook his fists at detectives as a self-employed Londoner, Kevin Whitton, was taken to the cells at the Old Bailey criminal court.

Whitton also was given 10 years, to run concurrently, for committing grievous bodily harm after a soccer game last Dec. 29 between his favorite team, Chelsea, and visiting Manchester United, another of England’s biggest clubs.


Soccer authorities welcomed the stiff sentence in the wake of last season’s rioting by English fans at home and abroad.

In May, 39 fans, mostly Italians, were killed after Liverpool supporters went on a rampage inside the Heysel stadium in Brussels at the European Champions Cup final against Juventus of Turin.

The court heard how Whitton was among 20 men fighting and threatening people who were trying to enter Chelsea’s ground before the match against Manchester.

Whitton had claimed he was merely waiting outside the ground with the intention of obtaining a ticket for the game. He also denied going with other fans after the game to a local bar and attacking its manager, 30-year-old Neil Hansen of Kirkland, Wash.

Although Whitton was not the attacker, the court heard, he held Hansen’s arms so that the American could not defend himself when another man rammed a beer glass into his face.

“This is the type of behavior which has branded an entire generation of British people in the eyes of the world as being dangerous and violent and outside the law and bad sports,” Judge Michael Argyle said before handing down the life sentence.


He told Whitton, who had previous convictions for soccer violence, “I cannot say when it will be safe to release you.”

Prosecutors said Hansen, a former serviceman who was stationed in Britain, lost four pints of blood in the attack on his face, needed 18 stitches, and almost died. He was hospitalized for five days and was badly scarred.

Hansen had since returned to the United States but came back to Britain to give evidence at the trial, which began in mid-October.

During the trial, Hansen told the jury that one of the soccer fans had shouted at him: “You bloody Americans, coming here and taking English jobs.” More serious insults followed, he said.

The judge told Whitton: “You have been found guilty of assisting in the appalling injuries on the American.”

Outside the court, Whitton’s mother--who had been dragged out screaming and kicking--sobbed hysterically when reporters tried to interview her.


Her son’s counsel, Lincoln Crawford, described the sentence as “Draconian” and said he would press the family to appeal.