The Resident Exclusive

THE BBC recently visited Portugal to film a series of interviews about how Portugal will cope with the huge number of fans expected to arrive for the Euro 2004 Football Championship. The Resident reporter George Fletcher caught up with BBC Breakfast’s Sports Correspondent, Rob Bonnet.

The BBC team was based at the Benfica Stadium in Lisbon. Rob Bonnet was there to carry out a series of interviews with British and Portuguese guests to gauge the general feeling among residents about the upcoming Euro 2004 championship and the fans it will attract to Portugal. With 25 years of experience in broadcasting, Bonnet has covered several Euro championships and has seen English fans at their best… and their worst. “My concern is that English fans are some of the worst behaved,” he commented, “and my worry is that Portugal will be another target for the violence we have seen at large scale football tournaments so many times before.”

The football friendly between England and Portugal held in the Algarve in February, had been noted for the relaxed atmosphere and lack of violence and arrests after the match. But that is almost always the case with friendlies, according to Bonnet. “They can never be used as a test for what will happen during the actual event itself,” he explained.

He remains concerned about the mass influx of fans, despite hearing from several guests about the Portuguese authorities’ plans to welcome England fans and show them traditional hospitality in a bid to reduce violent outbreaks. Hooligan culture has reared its ugly head at so many European and worldwide football events that he has covered and it is fast becoming representative of English fans on the whole. “This idea that the English hooligan only behaves the way he does because he’s been somehow provoked by the police or by other fans is not a new defence for their behaviour; I’ve heard it a million times before,” Bonnet commented.

The English hooligans flying the flag in Charleroi and Brussels during the Euro 2000 championship almost got the national team kicked out. Their behaviour was appallingly violent, and Bonnet is keen to point out that his concern is not with the Portuguese police’s ability, but with these hardcore fans. “I don’t want to seem at all critical of the Portuguese authorities. I just don’t have the knowledge of their operational techniques for this kind of event, so, of course, I cannot predict how they will deal with hooligan behaviour,” he explained. “But I’ve heard many other countries in Europe make much the same comments about their intentions to welcome fans with entirely positive intentions and violence still occurs.

“The problem is,” he explained, “almost all of the English fans will behave well and appreciate the welcome laid out for them by the Portuguese. But sadly, unavoidably, there is a hardcore who, despite the best efforts of the British authorities, will slip through the net, get into Portugal during the games, have a drink after a match and lose it. Basically, to what extent it will kick off really depends on how many hooligans get through the border controls into Portugal and get drunk.”

Despite all his concerns, Bonnet is looking forward to the event and will be in Portugal for as long as England stays in the game… but how long does he think that will be?

Who will win the championship?

“I come to every European championship and I look at the list of teams and it is hard to look past the big names,” Bonnet explained. He remembers the 1998 World Cup, when Croatia surprised everybody by getting through to the semi-finals. “Whether they will get as far in this event, however, is really very hard to say.” He is not hugely confident of England’s chances to win, but thinks that they will probably make it to the quarter finals. “I have to say, quite unoriginally, that France will win; they have to be the favourites with the bookies.”

Euro 2004 is fast approaching. As a seasoned broadcaster, who has covered many international football matches and tournaments, Rob Bonnet’s view is that Portugal’s security forces will be put to the test when England fans arrive. The Resident will be reporting soon on the official plans in place to combat the threat of hooliganism at this summer’s championship.