Prague prepares for England fans’ long weekend with ‘anti-conflict units’

Guardian

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06 Oktober 2019 08:00

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Czech police have been put on high alert for the arrival of an estimated 6,000 English supporters here for Friday’s Euro 2020 qualifier between England and the Czech Republic, with preparations afoot to deploy anti-riot squads in the event of violent disorder.

With widespread fears of alcohol‑fuelled disturbances that could be exacerbated by the country’s reputation for cheap beer, an unprecedented number of officers – including special English‑speaking “anti-conflict units” – will patrol the capital’s tourist districts for a fixture designated as high risk. Criminal, traffic and helicopter units, along with police on horseback, will be on duty for a match that has already drawn an appeal from the England manager, Gareth Southgate, for fans to be on their best behaviour.

Police have vowed to show zero tolerance for violations of local laws, which limit the consumption of alcohol on the streets and demand quiet in neighbourhoods deemed residential after 10pm.

The operation will be backed up by 11 British officers, the Czech Republic’s biggest deployment of foreign police agents for a match, as spotters responsible for identifying and communicating with troublesome English supporters.

The match will be played at Slavia Prague’s Eden Arena, several miles from the city centre. Lt-Col Jakub Schoř, of the Czech police presidium’s national football information unit, called the game “a big challenge [because] so many fans have never [before] come to Prague before at one time”.

He added: “Prague is a very attractive city for away fans in terms of price of beer and by playing the fixture on Friday night it has a new dimension and becomes even more attractive. With such a big number of away fans, it is assumed that some misbehaviour may occur.”

Most fans are expected to spend the weekend in Prague, putting an added burden on a city already struggling to cope with the effects of modern tourism, including a flourishing trade in organised pub crawls that have elicited complaints from local residents.

Prague’s extensive surveillance camera system will be used to monitor fans’ behaviour away from the stadium, a city council spokesperson said.

Security plans have been under way for months, with the Football Association, its Czech equivalent, the local municipality, the England supporters’ club and the British embassy in Prague all involved.

The embassy’s consular section will be on standby for emergencies. It has prepared a video of dos and don’ts to be posted on Facebook and Twitter. Along with the supporters’ club, it is setting up a stall in the city centre to act as an information base.

Some bar owners are taking contingency steps. O’Che’s Irish bar, in the historic old town district, will hire extra security guards to deal with potentially unruly fans. “We are not really worried, because we have English people every weekend,” said Jan, the bar’s manager, who declined to give his last name. “But we know that English fans can be completely crazy when they are angry. But it’s business and we’ll survive.”

Local police have dismissed the risk of organised violence but are concerned Czech hooligans may try to seize flags as trophies. “English fans are considered everywhere in the world an attractive rival, so it is likely that Czech hooligans will attempt to obtain English flags,” said Schoř. “The risk [lies] in the antisocial behaviour of individuals, which, considering the big amount of away fans, may lead to massive spontaneous disturbances.”

In that case, the police would be ready to use force, he said. “Visiting fans are more than welcome but if the situation is getting worse and needs an intervention of anti-riot units, we are ready to take action. I recommend to follow instructions given by the police in order to avoid any useless troubles such as paying a fine or being arrested.”

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