England fans warned of 'violence-seeking Serbian hooligans' ahead of 'high-risk' Euros opener

11 June 2024, 16:38

The fixture has been labelled as the most “high-risk” of the tournament
The fixture has been labelled as the most “high-risk” of the tournament. Picture: Alamy

By Will Conroy

England fans have been warned of 500 “violence-seeking Serbian hooligans” who are expected to attend the European Championship clash between the two countries on Sunday.

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Police officers in Germany are preparing themselves for major fan trouble ahead of the fixture which has been labelled as the most “high-risk” of the tournament.

England’s recent Euros campaigns have been plagued with violence, most notably before their opening game in France in 2016 against Russia and ahead of the final of the last tournament as acts of vandalism in the build-up overshadowed the Wembley showpiece event.

England football fans ahead of the Italy v England final.
England football fans ahead of the Italy v England final. Picture: Alamy

Gelsenkirchen’s chief of police, Peter Both, has issued warnings about the countries’ opening game which he says carries a threat similar to England’s clash with Russia eight years ago that saw both teams threatened with expulsion from the tournament.

He said: “There is risk, of course, but we are very, very well prepared.

“In principle, our riot-control units will keep a low profile. But if individuals or groups seek to cause disorder or engage in violent behaviour, these police units will be there. We will be there and we will intervene and take proactive action.”

He stressed that he expects most of the travelling fans to be peaceful and that the biggest challenge will be to identify the violent and disruptive groups as early as possible.

Mr Both added: “Up to 400 or 500 ­violence-seeking ­Serbian ­hooligans will travel to ­Germany.

“We don’t have concrete information but we can’t rule it out. So we have to prepare.”

Violence is prevalent in Serbian club football
Violence is prevalent in Serbian club football. Picture: Alamy

As well as this expectation, the accessibility of Germany for England fans, the 9 pm kick-off local time and the potential tension over Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine have all contributed to the high-risk nature of this match.

It is thought British police "spotters" and plain-clothed officers will be on duty at every England match.

Violence among supporters is prevalent in Serbian club football, in which hooligan groups such as “The Gravediggers” and “Head Hunters” have been linked to organised crime.

English fans have experienced violence in European ties in Serbia including Manchester City fans who were attacked before their match with Red Star Belgrade in December.

Read more: Football regulator to 'put fan voices front and centre', but Premier League warns against 'weakening competition'

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There is also a history of rioting at international level with two of Serbia’s previous Euro qualifiers being abandoned as a result of this behaviour.

The cheap price of strong beer in Germany has led to the Foreign Office issuing an official warning to fans telling them to "drink responsibly".

The Football Association had a bit rejected as they looked to have alcohol banned from being sold close to the ground on Sunday, according to reports.

There were clashes between England and Russia fans ahead of their clash in 2016
There were clashes between England and Russia fans ahead of their clash in 2016. Picture: Alamy

While England and Serbia have not met at senior international level in the latter’s 18-year history, under 21 clashes between the sides have been marred with violence and racist abuse.

However, there is confidence that Germany's experience with hosting major widescale sporting events before means they are well prepared for issues.

A UK law enforcement source has said: “If you were going to hold this tournament at this time anywhere apart from the UK, then you would choose Germany.

"They have a lot of experience at this kind of thing and they are putting in place a comprehensive system.

“But it’s a complex picture and unfortunately England fans are still regarded as fair game, or even desirable targets, by opposing hooligan groupings.

"There is particular concern about the Serbia game.”

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