World Cup May Feature Battle of Hooligans

ByABC News via via logo

June 11, 2006 — -- Police braced themselves for the worst Saturday night as the notorious English fans made their World Cup debut for 2006. The English team beat the team from Paraguay with a score of 1-0.

For English soccer fans, a celebration can resemble a riot.

But there were just a handful of arrests Saturday. It was nothing like the violence seen at past tournaments. During the 1998 World Cup, more than 900 English fans ended up in jail. At the European soccer championships in 2000, the arrest tally was even higher.

In fact, the word "hooligan" originated in London a century ago when a Patrick Hooligan murdered a policeman.

But despite the word's British origins, the English hooligans may not be the biggest problem this year. Polish thugs have vowed to steal the mantle of world's worst soccer hooligans from the English. The Spanish, the Swiss and the Croatians can all get a bit feisty as well.

But German authorities are ready for any trouble from the Brits, in particular.

"Hopefully, there will be no problem with them," said Frankfurt Police Inspector Jurgen Kartmann. "I mean, yes, we know about the history but that's how we are well prepared."

German officers are learning English. English cops are deployed on German soil. And 3,000 hard core English fans had their passports confiscated so they were banned from even getting on a plane to Germany.

The only problems so far have been drunkenness and German bating. Fans are wearing replicas of World War I helmets and insulting t-shirts -- and carrying models of World War II fighter jets.

"It's only a joke, by the way, we really don't mean it," said one English fan wearing a t-shirt that said, "Ten German Bombers Flying Through the Air."

England soccer fans may not be as violent as they once were, but they are just as obsessive.

During the World Cup, they will buy more than 60 million England flags. That's more than one for every person in the country. Government ministers fly the flags from limos, while the opposition politicians fly them from bicycles.

Then there's mad fan Billy Hodgson, who just likes to fly them from his house. Authorities, claiming his flag-covered house is an eyesore, have told him to take down his flags. But Hodgson refuses.

"My great granddad, he fought in the first world war, he got his head took off," Hodgson said. "He died for that flag -- and there is now way that I am taking it down, no way at all I am taking that flag down!"

ABC News' Nick Watt reported this story for "Good Morning America Weekend Edition."

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