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England fans set for toughest test of new image

Written by: Staff
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LONDON, May 18: A few hours before an England friendly soccer international in Denmark last year, four fans sat drinking quietly in a local pub before leaving for the stadium.

To their dismay, a nervous-looking local man approached and begged them not to start trouble.

The incident served as a reminder that despite England fans' good behaviour at the last two international tournaments, bad reputations take a long time to shake off.

England fans will once again come under scrutiny when more than 100,000 travel to Germany -- their most bitter soccer rivals -- for the June 9 to July 9 World Cup.

''The vast majority of England fans are supporters of the England team,'' Professor Tom Riley, who studies science and soccer at Liverpool John Moores University, told Reuters.

''Hooliganism now is a very different phenomenon from the late seventies and mid-eighties where you had large sections of individual clubs who were basically hungry for trouble.

''But that doesn't hide the fact that given certain circumstances, England fans could still get drawn in.'' Both British and German police say they are confident the tournament will pass off smoothly as the two sides have worked closely to prevent known troublemakers travelling.

The combination of sun, alcohol and thousands of fans from around the world mixing under close police inspection could still lead to trouble, however.

Some 945 English hooligans were detained and expelled after rioting in Belgium during Euro 2000 and the 1998 World Cup in France was marred by violent England fans.

Supporters at the 2002 World Cup in South Korea and Japan were praised for their behaviour however, and in Euro 2004 in Portugal the overriding image of England fans was of young men and women, draped in their country's colours, loudly supporting their team.

It is a look they are keen to repeat.

MORE REUTERS

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