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Hooliganism Going Strong: 600 Arrested

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Dutch might have won the game, but, at least by the measure of the police blotter, the English won the war.

Hooliganism--the violence and mayhem associated with international soccer--surfaced again on the sport’s international stage in a series of incidents surrounding Wednesday night’s World Cup qualifying match here between bitter rivals Holland and England.

Authorities arrested some 600 England followers and detained more than 800 people in three nights of pitched battles, mainly between the English and police in Rotterdam and Amsterdam.

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Before the game, downtown Rotterdam was bristling with 700 riot police backed by canine squads. With military helicopters hovering, fans clashed with police outside Feyenoord Stadium.

Hundreds of English and Dutch fans charged each other in violent surges. When the police intervened, setting up a human chain to separate the fans, the rival sides pelted the helmeted policemen, who were protected by riot shields, with bottles and rocks.

At least six people suffered minor injuries, including three policemen and a television crew that was attacked by the combatants of a brawl it was attempting to film.

There was little trouble, however, inside the stadium, where rival fans were kept from each other by fences topped with razor wire, although several flares were lighted and tossed onto the field during the game, which was won by the Netherlands, 2-0.

The thousands of segregated English fans were held in the stadium for 90 minutes after the game and then escorted to waiting buses to be transported to the train station.

The violence began in Amsterdam on Monday night, when English fans knocked over cyclists and harassed pedestrians, and, on Tuesday night, at least two police officers were hurt in a confrontation with fans in the central city, near the city’s red light district. Two other policemen were thrown into a canal by a drunken gang.

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In that skirmish, police in full riot gear and a special mounted brigade were called in to quash the hooligans, who could be seen during the day overflowing from bars and lining the main street leading to Amsterdam’s central train station.

Dutch officials had braced for the onslaught. Authorities in Germany and Denmark were alerted to the possibility that banned English supporters--those with criminal records associated with soccer--would travel through their countries to the Netherlands.

Scores of banned English fans were met at ferry landings in the Hook of Holland over the weekend and immediately deported. Members of the British Parliament encouraged Dutch authorities to mete out the maximum possible punishments to lawbreakers, who serve as embarrassing ambassadors abroad.

Of the 600 fans who were arrested, 400 were to be deported Wednesday night by plane and boat. But 200 others escaped from an undermanned detention center in Rotterdam.

Because the English and Dutch fans are equally notorious, a match pitting the two countries offered the potential for the kind of rampages that soccer officials insist is on the wane.

First-hand observation and police reports testify to the contrary. Dutch officials are calling this week’s events the worst hooliganism in Holland in recent memory. Even an extreme--by Dutch standards--show of force failed to provide adequate deterrent for much of the fighting.

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After Tuesday night’s skirmishes in Amsterdam, for example, police patrols were intensified. Special riot police were deployed throughout the central train station, which, often in the past, has served as both hotel for broke hooligans and a nexus for clashing battle lines. Blue-uniformed, jack-booted officers were outfitted in bulletproof vests and full body padding, including pads on their hands and knuckles.

These elite forces were also equipped with holstered handguns, a rarity in this nation.

Mounted police patrolled the main shopping streets, while heavily armored police vans were parked at one-block intervals on Wednesday.

In the face of both daylight and armed police, the outnumbered English fans--largely young men with closely cropped hair and the names of their favorite English league teams tattooed on their lips--were content to sit at sidewalk cafes, drink beer and taunt the police and heckle passersby.

An eight-person contingent of U.S. security experts has been on hand to observe the security measures in preparation for next summer’s World Cup in the United States. Organizing committee officials are aware of the United States’ inexperience in sports-related violence.

In a Rotterdam news conference Wednesday, the American officials said that they are confident that any similar incidents at the 1994 World Cup would be quickly brought under control.

“There has been a lot of training to deal with civil insurrections around the country, and I do not think there will be a problem dealing with this,” said Barry King of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Dept.

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But police officials here are skeptical.

“The point is that the Americans don’t actually know what they are talking about,” said Rotterdam police spokesman Peter van Zunderd. “They have absolutely no experience with these sorts of situations because sports in America is, for the most part, a huge family party.”

Rotterdam police are well-acquainted with hooliganism. Feyenoord Stadium is considered one of Europe’s most secure venues, and the Dutch police are respected for their ability to anticipate trouble and contain damage.

Special squads patrolled trains traveling to Rotterdam. One late afternoon train from Amsterdam was already crowded with commuters and prepared to leave the station when a crush of English fans boarded without tickets.

The fans stood in the aisles and squatted on the edge of seats during the one-hour trip and sang soccer songs, shouted out windows at each station stop and generally terrorized passengers who had the bad judgment to make eye contact.

The train’s conductor, who had started to make his way through the length of the train to collect tickets, abandoned that in the face of clogged aisles and hurled abuse.

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