Saitama steeled for invasion of notoriously rowdy England fans


SAITAMA, Japan, Reuters

The English are coming and Yoshiharu Fujinami is afraid.

Fujinami has seen footage of England fans on the rampage and is worried about the mayhem they could cause when their team open their World Cup campaign against Sweden in Saitama on Sunday.

Although British police are confident a crackdown on hooligans has prevented known troublemakers from getting to Japan, local volunteers have formed a 400-strong �vigilance committee?to keep a watch over the streets near the stadium.

�I got scared particularly after seeing a video on hooligans,?said Fujinami, a municipal official who heads the group. �We don�t know how we can cope with them, but the important thing is to be prepared.? Some 4,000 Japanese police will be on patrol around the stadium, working closely with British police �spotters?experienced in picking out hooligans.

�We are cooperating together and getting ready to feed information to police whenever any trouble occurs in our community because we have to be able to protect ourselves,?said Fujinami.

British police officers have tried to correct the image built up during months of lurid coverage in the local media that all England fans are marauding, beer-swilling vandals.

�Unfortunately, the picture that is being given of European football fans is incorrect. Japanese people have nothing particular to fear,?Ron Hogg, the head of a large contingent of British police in Japan for the finals, told reporters.

CULTURE CLASH

Bare-chested, tattooed and shaven headed, some England fans will look very unusual to the Japanese, but Hogg said the vast majority will be very good-natured.

Fujinami is not convinced. �I think I�ll call the police if we start seeing a group of foreigners making a lot of noise,?he said.

That�s where the British police come in. They have been coaching their opposite numbers for months on how to tell the difference between boisterous fans just having a good time and a rowdy crowd that could spark trouble.

�In the hot weather they will take off their shirts and drink a lot of beer. This does not make them violent or a hooligan. They are here to enjoy themselves and enjoy the hospitality of Japan,?said Graham Stafford, another senior British policeman.

Still, some local shopkeepers are leaving nothing to chance.

�To avoid any trouble, I�ll close my shop early before a match starts. I�m doing this in order to protect myself,?said Harue Yoshida, the owner of a coffee shop near the stadium.

Yukio Shishikura, who owns a liquor store next to Yoshida�s shop, added: �We�ll watch how things go. If there are many foreigners near our shop looking for trouble then probably we would have to close.? Even some local police are aware that, by over-reacting, Saitama risks giving a bad impression to both overseas and Japanese visitors.

�Of course we have to be extra careful but we shouldn�t be too nervous about it because we also want to welcome many foreigners as well as Japanese visitors,?said a policeman on duty near the local train station.