English soccer fans almost got their national team booted out of the Euro2000 tournament for their hooliganism over the weekend in Charleroi, Belgium. Turns out there was no need: The Romanian team took care of it Tuesday with a 3-2 victory.
That was the bad news for England. The good news: There was no outbreak of what's known as "English disease." "The fans are dejected but calm," Reuters quoted a Home Office official saying. Reuters reported that most English fans quietly made their way to bus and train stations, with only a few dejected fans hanging around in the town square, grumbling about fullback Phil Neville's ill-advised tackle on Viorel Moldovan in the 88th minute, which led to the game-winning penalty kick.
London's newspapers didn't show quite the same restraint. "Romaniac," screamed the Mirror's banner headline, referring to Neville's rash play. "Out," said the Sun, blaming England's loss on Neville's "blunder."
On Saturday, England had beaten defending champion Germany, 1-0, and hooligan violence by English fans in Charleroi and Brussels before, during and after that match led soccer officials to threaten the English with expulsion from the tournament in the event of a repeat performance. (Germany was also eliminated Tuesday, dropping a 3-0 decision to Portugal, which played its second string.)
British Home Secretary Jack Straw complained Tuesday to BBC radio about what he called a "social and cultural problem" that turns normally law-abiding citizens into violent thugs when they've had a gargle or two. This phenomenon cuts into the effectiveness of England's policy of preventing known hooligans from traveling to foreign matches.
"The difficulty is this rather deeper social and cultural problem which we have in this country in respect to drink-related violence," Straw said.
Meanwhile, in Los Angeles Monday, jubilant fans of the newly crowned NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers showed that "England's disease" isn't necessarily limited to jolly old. The Lakers' victory was celebrated with violence that resulted in 11 arrests, four injured cops, two torched cop cars, two damaged TV news vans, 74 cars damaged at various dealerships and miscellaneous looting and burning.
And L.A. spent Tuesday sniping over it.
"Where were the police?" the Associated Press quoted car dealer Stephen E. Auth saying, echoing a sentiment shared by many whose businesses sustained damage.
"I think from looking at the size of the crowd and looking at the emotion of the crowd, we certainly feel as though the end result was the best that we could do in those circumstances," Police Chief Bernard Parks said.
"I'm finding it a little hard to swallow this morning," countered City Council member Rudy Svorinich, that "mayhem for approximately three hours on the streets of Los Angeles after the Laker victory can be declared a victory in crowd control."
Indeed, local storekeepers are concerned that the LAPD won't be able to protect them from any violence that occurs during the Democratic Convention in L.A. in August, at which up to 30,000 demonstrators are expected.