What a shame!

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A novel reputation for peaceful support earned by English football fans over the weekend was left in tatters after hundreds of drunken hooligans fought in the streets of Albufeira in the early hours of last Tuesday and Wednesday.

Riot police and mounted officers were called in by the local GNR after initial attempts to control the trouble served only to antagonise drunken fans. The trouble centred around The Strip, in the centre of the town. At the time of going to press, 44 Britons, one Portuguese national, one Dutchman and one Russian had been arrested for public order offences and 12 people, including eight Englishmen, one Irishman, one Scotsman and one Portuguese man had been treated in Albufeira health centre.

The chief of Albufeira GNR, Captain Matias, had told journalists that he intended to adopt a ‘softly softly’ approach and had instructed officers not to interfere with ‘fans’ fun’. But when initial attempts to calm the situation failed, police in riot gear and on horseback were deployed to break up the crowd using tear gas.

A police spokesman from Lisbon’s GNR headquarters confirmed that, on both days, local officers had initially been called to deal with crowds of England fans drinking in bars on The Strip at around 1am. He said: “When the GNR officers tried to intervene, the fans became aggressive.” At this point, the fighting, said to involve up to 400 hooligans, moved to the streets, with fans hurling bottles and chairs at police. “Two officers have suffered minor injuries,” the spokesman confirmed.

Captain Matias revealed that his squad had been helped by a contingent of English police officers based in the Algarve. Spotters from the British police have allegedly identified several known troublemakers in the crowd, some of them with previous convictions for violence.

Matias believes that there is likely to be more trouble as, “English fans are only in the Algarve to cause trouble.” He said that, in his opinion, a stricter control over the sale of alcohol would lessen the number of incidents.

Cheers, beers, but no trouble over weekend

The trouble was particularly disappointing as the authorities had been convinced that the high tech, low profile policing of Euro 2004 fans seemed to be paying off.

The biggest test should have come last Sunday, when England took on France. While hundreds of fans, with and without tickets for the match, opted to travel to Lisbon, many stayed behind in the Algarve to watch the action in bars and pubs. Albufeira proved a popular choice, with The Strip transformed into a sea of red and white shirts, flags and bellies. Film crews from the BBC were on stand-by to record the fans’ behaviour.

As kick-off drew closer, the chanting grew louder. With not a French fan in sight, there was unanimous cheering as England went one up in the first half. The beer ran freely and the fans’ spirits soared at the prospect of beating Les Bleus. But when France first drew even, then went ahead, the mood in Albufeira turned first to disbelief and then deflation. However, despite the disappointment, there was surprisingly little trouble across the region and police reported that only one England fan was arrested nationally, in Lisbon. Alan John Walker, 29, from Leek in Staffordshire, was reportedly given a 12-month suspended sentence and a fine of 2,000 euros after being arrested for an assault on a Frenchman. He has been banned from returning to Portugal for 12 months.

This was in stark contrast to back in the UK, where 80 fans were arrested nationally and police dealt with burnt-out squad cars and street brawls after the match. Speaking to The Resident, one fan explained that this could have been because of the restraining orders imposed by the British courts, which have denied known hooligans the chance to cause mayhem in Portugal. “Yes, we’re gutted, but this is only the start and most of us are here to enjoy the football, not to wreck the place,” he said. His words seemed hollow just three days later as the media relayed images of drunken English yobs hurling chairs at police officers.