World Cup: The Thugs Are Back in Town

  • Share
  • Read Later
LONDON: It's a game of numbers. As many as 30,000 British soccer fans will arrive in the French town of Lens Friday for England's match against Colombia -- 10,000 of them without tickets. Meanwhile, 640 known German hooligans are at large in France, many remaining in Lens, where they battered a French policeman into a coma Sunday. If this convergence of soccer's worst louts seems coincidental, it ain't: A leaked French intelligence service memo, published Wednesday in Le Monde, says the Germans have chosen the spot "to battle for the title of 'hardest hooligans in Europe' with their English enemies."

Lens itself (population: 30,000) is certainly taking the threat of thug war extremely seriously. Pubs and supermarkets in this little mining town have already shut down on the advice of its mayor. "Better a town dead for a day or two than a town destroyed," one barman told reporters. So will the hooligans leave their murderous mark on the World Cup once again? "Hopefully, it'll be an anticlimax," says TIME correspondent Wendy Steavenson, who will be at the match. "The lesson of Toulouse" -- where England played its last game -- "is that a blanket alcohol ban helps defuse violence. There's nowhere for them to go." In the end, it may depend on another number: The police presence in Lens, which has now reached 1,300.