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Published: Tuesday, 6/6/2006

The hooligans gear up

AT A recent Mud Hens game, a young father nestled his toddler in his lap, then lifted the youngster up to look around in wide-eyed wonder at the crowd and the field.

That type of family-friendly sight would be unthinkable - and the little one dangerously out of place - at a soccer game in which any English team is participating. At those matches, the crowds are rough, the language can't be shared in a family newspaper, and the potential violence between rival firms - the name given gangs of supporters - is all too real.

No wonder British and German officials are concerned about the upcoming World Cup in Germany, which kicks off on Friday.

The hooligans of football (as the British call soccer) are a blight that has dragged the English game into the mud.

How they must be salivating at the prospect of not only causing havoc at England international matches, but doing so in Germany.

Why? Because 60 years after World War II, anti-German and war-referencing insults are part of the yob lexicon. So much so that in addition to being told to behave overseas, soccer fans also are being urged not to dig up the war.

"It is totally insulting and wrong," said former British home secretary Charles Clarke.

Exactly. That's why the soccer fans do it.

Impersonations of Hitler, singing the theme from the war movie "The Dam Busters," and other insulting chants are the stand-bys of supporters who appear more interested in puerile slurs hurled at German fans than in any action on the field.

For years, politicians, academics, and the average Briton have tried to figure out why a nation considered a pillar of civility, of thatched cottages and cups of tea, should also be home to some of the most ruthless soccer fans in the world. Why some intense team rivalries require a police presence on a par with a street riot.

So far, few convincing answers have emerged.

What is apparent, is that while the behavior of these so-called fans may be embarrassing to the British government, we are sure that ministerial exhortations to play nice and use more etiquette in their chants will have zero impact.

And we are equally certain that the Germans are hoping that the English side will lose early and head for home, taking its fans with it.

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