Extra cash to keep soccer yobs pinned down

Hatters fans may be regarded as a soft touch, but police are a different prospect

Extra cash to tackle football hooliganism has come at just the right time for police, who fear a new wave of violence at Luton Town matches.

A large slice of the 5 million promised by the Government this week to help stamp out trouble at games across the country will go to Bedfordshire Police.

Some will be used on operations to prevent aggro from away fans who police suspect have pinpointed Luton as an "easy" target this season.

About 200,000 had already been earmarked for the probe into fighting between rival supporters at the cup tie between the Hatters and Watford at the start of last season.

The cash will also allow police to monitor suspected football thugs using Luton airport to travel to international games, including Euro 2004 in Portugal.

Home Office figures released on Monday show that 42 Luton supporters were arrested during the 2002-03 season. Only nine of those were at Kenilworth Road games.

Total football-related arrests in the town last season – home and away fans – was the lowest since Luton lifted its ban on visiting fans in 1990-91.

But Luton police's football liaison officer, Pc Peter Palmer, fears that hooligans will travel here this season intent on causing trouble because they believe Hatters followers are now "an easy touch".

Many of Luton's notorious MIGs (Men In Gear) gang have not attended matches since violence at the Watford game nearly a year ago, which led to the arrest of 24 Hatters supporters, who are now awaiting trial.

Fifty Crystal Palace troublemakers travelled to Luton by train for July's pre-season friendly. There were three arrests.

"The Crystal Palace hooligans were bent on causing disorder and Luton people did not respond," said Pc Palmer.

"In the past, the MIGs have been seen as a pretty hard group and other teams felt they did not have the ability to take them on.

"They might now see it as a chance to come to the town. I am concerned they might do this.

"We had problems from Tranmere at the end of last season and I have never known that from their fans before."

Pc Palmer said that following serious incidents at the Watford and Northampton matches early last season, Hatters games had been virtually trouble-free since November because of the police investigations.

He added: "We were able to make major inroads into the hooliganism problem and it was much quieter at the end of the season.

"But there are indications that younger groups are now attending matches determined to cause trouble and we will be vigilant in tackling that problem. Government money will help us to do that."

The 42 arrests of Luton supporters last season included 15 for alcohol offences, 13 for violent disorder, nine for public disorder, two for running on to the pitch and one for throwing a missile.