Pubdate: Sun, 18 Jun 2000 Source: Sunday Independent (Ireland) Copyright: 2000 Independent Newspapers Ltd Contact: Website: Author: Evan Fanning


The grass that mattered wasn't on the pitch - instead it kept football hooligans in check, writes Evan Fanning.

THE reaction of the Dutch police officer said it all. ``They're doped up or dying or something,'' he muttered to his colleague as the masses of smiling English supporters strolled from the Philips stadium in Eindhoven despite having just watched their side snatch defeat from the jaws of victory against Portugal. Wiser words have rarely been spoken.

For months we've been hearing how the streets of Holland and Belgium would be battlegrounds for mindless thugs from all over Europe, but so far not much trouble has materialised.

The thugs are on the streets all right, they just don't feel much like fighting. Having spent last weekend in Amsterdam (research, you understand) I feel as qualified as anyone to comment and my theories have been backed up this week by the Dutch police. The fans are far too stoned to fight each other. The ``troublemakers'' have been taking full advantage of the ``relaxed'' drug laws in Holland. Relaxed, in this case, being another word for non-existent.

It seems that if we'd just legalised marijuana and prostitution all along, then we wouldn't even know what hooliganism is.

In the spirit of it all, two Dutch porn stars, Tona and Kate (porn stars don't have surnames), were sent out into the streets of Eindhoven to help English fans unwind. ``We set out to kiss people in order to calm them down. We made a point of kissing those who looked most like hooligans,'' said Tona.

Unfortunately for her, it seems most of them were gazing over her shoulder at the kebab stalls. Old habits die hard, especially when you've got the munchies.

Every major football tournament for the last 30 years has yearned to find ways of uniting supporters in some sort of wholesome activity. Back in Amsterdam they have the answer. Rival fans joked and laughed with each other on the whore-riddled laneways of the red light district.

``Go on, my son,'' an Englishman bellowed at a moustached Czech haggling with a hooker. The Czech turned, raised his fist in the air like a gladiator going into battle, gave the thumbs up to his new English friend, then dived through the doorway for 15 minutes of fun with the girl of his dreams. How the crowd cheered.

The whole town was smiling, giggling, laughing like schoolkids.

A Swede approached me in a bar. ``Do you know the Euro anthem, We Are the Champions?'' he asked. I said I didn't but was keen to learn. The stoned Swede wasn't interested. I was long forgotten. He asked the barman if he could borrow his bong (hookah pipe), and off he went.

Even the famous canals couldn't escape the madness. Boat after boat of football fans sailed by with people shouting and singing songs they couldn't remember the words to. Whoever happened to be crossing each bridge was greated with huge amounts of whooping, cheering and dancing. The Sixties are alive and well in Amsterdam.

So after years of scalding the Dutch for their tolerance of, well everything, we are now prepared to concede that in circumstances such as this, they might have had the right attitude all along.

The biggest threat of violence in this tournament was always going to be last night's game between England and Germany in Charleroi in Belgium. And just as Holland is famed for its drugs, Belgium is famous for its wide varieties of strong beer.

IN the run-up to the match, the English tabloids reported on this with just a hint of disdain for the Belgians. If any trouble occurs, it's going to be their fault because of their strict drug policies. Why can't they be more like the Dutch? they asked.

The Dutch, of course, had watered down the beer in and around the stadium so fans couldn't get too drunk.

After last weekend's research in Amsterdam, I've got a theory on how the Belgian police should tackle any thugs: forget the truncheons, just wave a bag of grass.