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Threat of Fan Violence Doesn’t Spoil Joy at Soccer Sites

TIMES STAFF WRITER

It is nearly time to play international soccer in this breeze-swept island capital dressed festively for its World Cup debut. There are new roads, a remodeled stadium, and excited townsfolk framed by violet sprays of jacaranda and spills of bougainvillea in brilliant red and orange.

There are two large cops on every downtown corner. Riot wagons, command helicopters and shock troops dressed like Darth Vader wait in the wings.

For the rest of Italy, there’s the thrill of playing host to the 1990 World Cup. For the Italian islands of Sardinia and Sicily, there’s the trauma of welcoming foreign fans for whom drink and violence are also sport. On Monday, a Sardinian magistrate sentenced three young British fans who got drunk and vandalized a hotel room during the weekend to 20 days in an 18th-Century jail here.

Sardinia has the worst of it: Among well-behaved English fans, a visit from louts called hooligans whose vandalism at home and abroad have made British soccer teams international pariahs. England, the seeded team in the Cup’s Group F, is alone on Sardinia. The other teams in the group, Holland--no treat, thanks to some young Dutch fans--Ireland and Egypt will be headquartered in Sicily.

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For the British, Sardinia is a test. If there’s trouble here, a ban against English play in international matches, lifted for the World Cup tournament, probably will be extended indefinitely.

For Sardinia, being one of the 12 Italian World Cup sites amounts to a coming of age for an island of agriculture and tourism that is one of Italy’s poorer regions.

Whether the hooligans will ruin Cagliari’s party has become as much a topic of civic debate as the shortage of water on a Mediterranean island where three years of drought has brought rationing that leaves most homes with dry faucets for up to 16 hours a day. English players practicing here said an unexpected day of rain last week made Sardinia feel like home. Sardinians welcomed it as an unexpected gift, a good omen, perhaps, before the deluge.

“There is apprehension,” said Arturo Clavuot, editor of L’Unione Sarda, the major newspaper on this mountainous island of 1.7 million. “People realize that their city is besieged by police. They are surprised, but also comforted: The cocktail of English, Dutch and Irish is an explosive one. Something will happen--but it won’t get out of control.”

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Stefano Aricca, president of the Sardinian branch of Italia 90, the organizing group, takes a more sanguine view.

“There are many police of all sorts already, and more are coming. There’s no reason to panic. We are a proud and hospitable people. We can take care of ourselves if necessary,” he said.

Aricca thinks the Dutch hooligans bear the most watching.

Opposite logic prevails in Sicily. Poor Sardinia with all those English louts, say Italia 90 officials in Palermo, where about 10,000 Dutch fans will concentrate except on June 16 when Holland plays England here.

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The Sicilians expect about 5,000 Irish and about 950 Egyptians will arrive aboard the Achille Lauro, a cruise ship seized by terrorists who killed an American tourist in 1985.

“The police have been increased, and they are ready,” said Giuseppe Barbera, Italia 90 president for Sicily. “Authorities have taken exceptional measures. We don’t expect bad trouble, but we are ready if it comes. There is great excitement here, particularly at having the powerful Dutch team. We think the Cup will help the world understand that there’s more to Sicily than Mafiosi.”

Palermo’s La Favorita stadium, reopening for Cup play after a two-year face lift that claimed the lives of five workmen, is proclaimed “a jewel,” one of the world’s best modern stadiums. La Favorita and Palermo figure to get their liveliest workout at the Holland-Ireland game June 21.

Here in Sardinia, the apocalypse, if it comes, will be June 16--England vs. Holland. Everyone will be here for the encounter between two potential finalists.

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Joao Havelenge, president of the international soccer federation, expects no trouble.

“I am certain that young people who come to the World Cup will arrive with the right attitude,” he said. “You wouldn’t expect a guest you invited into your home to smash the place up. We have to make sure we don’t treat the finals as if it were a battle campaign.”

British police last week said that intelligence reports indicated a planned confrontation between English and Dutch louts, but Italy’s reinforced and soccer-wise carabinieri promise that any trouble will be quickly snuffed.

Italian police have been working closely with British and Dutch anti-hooligan experts for months, hoping to head off the worst troublemakers long before they get to the stadiums. The sale of alcohol on game days has already been banned in Sicily, and there is strong pressure for Sardinia to follow suit.

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For England’s appearance, security concerns have been paramount from the outset. It was seeded and sent to Sardinia expressly because an island is harder and more expensive for lager louts to reach.

Roberto Pappalardo, the Italia 90 secretary for Sardinia, expects about 9,000 fans, of whom perhaps 10% will merit police attention. About 6,000 Dutch and Irish fans are expected for their games in Sardinia, and 7,000 or more Egyptians, Pappalardo said.

Known troublemakers will find it hard to board planes or ferries to Sardinia from the Italian mainland. The British have coached Italian police in everything from crowd control to understanding abuse in gutter English, and the two forces say they will shadow the worst of hooligans every step of the way.

An awesome security net surrounds the teams and stadiums all over the country. England’s team is staying at a spectacular but isolated golf club 20 miles from Cagliari in the Sardinian countryside.

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For this World Cup, there will be a seat in every stadium for every ticket, which is unique in Europe. In England, and in many European stadiums, end zone fans are packed into areas without seats. A classic tactic of ticketless hooligans is to force the gate at the last minute. Italian police promise that won’t happen here.

Game-bound fans will pass a series of security checks and body searches beginning hundreds of yards away. Nothing that could become a weapon--flag poles to soft drink cans--will make it into the stadium, police say. Only non-alcoholic drinks will be sold inside, and they will come in high-tech plastic containers with special tops that are designed to fly off if thrown.

In each stadium, remote-controlled television cameras will scan the crowd. They will be able to zoom in on any seat in the stadium, and a computer will print an instant portrait of trouble in the making.

Confident Italia 90 officials predict that if trouble does come, it will be outside the stadiums, rather than inside, where the world will be watching. Aricca optimistically expects a television audience of three billion for the match between England and Holland.

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Fans from opposing teams will be kept apart on their way to the stadiums, while they are inside and after they leave, Italian officials say. For Cagliari, a seaside town of 350,000 normally policed by a few hundred officers, 3,000 more have been flown in, according to Mayor Paolo De Magistris.

“We worry about losers and winners coming to blows outside the stadium, and we worry about local youths who might like to join in,” De Magistris said. “But the Cup has meant great development for Cagliari, public works like roads, parking, the stadium and airport improvements that will remain after everybody has gone home.”

The bottom line is that the Cup makes Cagliari a winner even if sirens howl.

And amid the anticipation and trepidation, Cagliari’s mayor is, hands down, the most laconic of Italy’s World Cup organizers. He is a slight, white-haired aristocrat whose idea of a good time is reading history--currently a study of 6th Century Byzantium--while muscles flex all around him.

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“I’m pleased that my fellow citizens who are sports enthusiasts have this chance they have never had before,” he said. “But I have never been to a soccer game, and I won’t be going this time, either.”


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