Tue, Oct 10, 2006 - Page 18 News List

Croatia clamps down on racist fans ahead of England fixture

THE GUARDIAN , LONDON

Croatia's Mladen Petric, left, celebrates after he scored his team's second goal during a Euro 2008 qualifying match against Andorra in Zagreb on Saturday. Croatia play England tomorrow.

PHOTO: AFP

Stringent security will surround England's Euro 2008 qualifying match in Croatia this week amid fears that far-right hooligans could target England supporters.

Soccer's world governing body, FIFA, has charged the Croatian Football Federation with bringing the game into disrepute after fans formed a human swastika on the terraces two months ago during a friendly international in Italy. Supporters at domestic matches in Croatia have a poor reputation for racist behavior and violence.

Representatives of the London branch of the official England supporters' club, englandfans, are planning a series of "fan-friendly" events before tomorrow's match in an attempt to reduce the risk of trouble. British police have visited Croatia to liaise with the local force and two uniformed British officers will be present in Zagreb. The low level of trouble involving English fans at the World Cup in Germany was attributed in part to a uniformed British policing presence.

A British embassy spokeswoman in Zagreb said trouble was not expected, but added: "We are not complacent about football-related disorder."

The Football Supporters' Federation's traveling "embassy" will be in Zagreb to help the 4,000-plus England fans expected.

"There is clearly a hooligan problem and clearly a problem of racism in Croatia and it was very much a concern of supporters at our recent meeting,"said Mark Perryman, organizer of London englandfans.

"There are a number of far-right groups involved in their fan base -- it is very similar to Poland. The Croatian soccer authorities are aware of the potential problems at the game and a lot of work has gone on with the stadium management on prevention of violence and racism. They are aware of the sanctions that can be imposed by UEFA," said Piara Power, director of the Kick It Out campaign against racism in soccer.

Croatia were fined during Euro 2004 over racist banners flown at a game against France. The swastika incident in Livorno, involving 250 fans, heightened concerns.

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