Evaluation of public order policing during Euro 2004

© Otto Adang and Clifford Stott

Summary of a presentation given to EU task force chiefs of police, october 11, 2004 the Hague,
published in Tijdschrift voor Veiligheid en Veiligheidszorg

At the request of the Portuguese national police PSP and funded by the Economic Social Research Council (ESRC) an independent study was carried out into fan behaviour and public order policing during the 2004 European footballchampionships held in Portugal (Euro 2004). The study was conducted in cooperation between the University of Liverpool and the Police Academy of the Netherlands. The research addressed three specific issues. Firstly, understanding the psychological processes and intergroup dynamics underlying both the presence and absence of 'disorder' in the context of international football. Secondly, evaluating the effectiveness of police strategies and tactics used to prevent crowd disorder. Thirdly, developing the relationship between science and practice in the realm of public order policing by providing an empirically based approach to the safety and security planning of future international football tournaments.


The project combined two methodological approaches of structured observation and ethnography to collect data on police and fans during the event. The evaluation study built on previous research carried out by the participating researchers, especially during the World Cup ’98 in France, Euro 2000 in the Netherlands and Belgium and selected Champions League matches played between 2001 and 2003. The structured observation used was similar to the one used for the Euro 2000 study, allowing for direct comparisons to be made.
Between June 12 and July 4, a number of data were gathered (in addition to written documentation):
interviews with Portuguese police officers and foreign police officers;
interviews with fans, especially from Germany, England and the Netherlands;
answers by English, German and Dutch fans to a web-based questionnaire;
interviews with members of fan projects and fan embassies;
structured observations in host cities on evenings before and days of matches by trained observation teams (four teams of four observers each);
semi-structured observations by international monitoring team and project managers.

Fourteen matches were selected for observation, viz. all matches of the England and German teams (analysed as matches with increased risk by Portuguese authorities) and matches of the national teams of the Netherlands and Portugal (analysed as matches without increased risk by Portuguese authorities).

2Preliminary results

1.If police was visibly present the proportion of visible officers was on average 4 officers per 100 fans, both in normal and increased risk situations. This figure is somewhat lower than but comparable to the Euro 2000 visible presence in low profile, normal risk situations (on average 6 officers per 100 fans). There is no distinction between low and high profile policing during Euro 2004, whereas there was a clear distinction during Euro 2000 in this respect. Note should be taken of the fact that in Portugal, extensive use was made of plainclothes police officers, who were deployed wherever fans gathered in large numbers.
2.If police was present, this was not in the form of full riot police. During Euro 2000 riot police in full riot gear was present in approximately 15% of samples, with a significantly higher riot police presence in high profile situations and whenever risk analyses indicated increased risk. During Euro 2004, there was no significant difference between low and increased risk situations with regard to visibility of riot police. Note should be taken of the fact that observers indicated that riot police units were in fact present in the neighbourhood of locations where fans gathered: however they were positioned in such a way that they were not directly or easily visible to fans.
3.During Euro 2004, there were almost no incidents recorded during the structured observations (just 0,4% of all samples. During Euro 2000, 10% of samples had incidents, with most incidents in normal risk, high profile situations! (indicating the counterintuitive effect high profile policing may have: rather than deterring incidents, it may actually provoke them).


Whereas Euro 2000 was considered a success by the organising countries because of the low frequency of incidents and because the much anticipated ‘mother of all hooligan wars’ did not occur, Euro 2004 was characterised by an almost total absence of incidents. As was the case during Euro 2000 as well, apart from a few (attempted) pitch invasions by individuals, no incidents occurred inside stadiums. Analysis of the data obtained in this independent evaluation allows us to address the important issue of the cause of the low frequency of incidents within Portugal. The fact that especially Germany and the UK prevented known troublemakers from travelling to Portugal certainly was a factor. However, both our observations as interviews with foreign police teams indicated that individuals known as ‘hooligans’ or characterizing themselves as such were in fact present in Portugal. Observations of the rare and limited incidents that did occur as well as potential incidents that had all the ingredients for escalation, but did not in fact escalate, allows us to state that, in spite of low visible police presence, most of these incidents were responded to quickly. The absence of major incidents was therefore not just a matter of chance. Quick and targeted low-profile police interventions prevented escalation. In this way, clear behavioural limits were set. Police strategy and tactics contributed to an atmosphere where fans identified as football or Euro2004 fans first (rather than just as fans of their respective national teams), non-violent behaviour was the norm and fans opposing violence became empowered. As a consequence, we saw several examples of self-policing among fans.

This argument is strengthened by incidents that did occur in the Algarve (in Albufeira), where police tactics differed. Initially, behavioural limits were not set and the police response to beginning incidents did not differentiate between troublemakers and bystanders. Here, those willing to use violence were empowered.

Our preliminary conclusion is that the police strategy and tactics (the low profile approach, where behavioural limits are set friendly and firmly) was successful and contributed to the development of a common football/‘Euro 2004’ identity among fans and the empowerment of non-violence and self-policing among fans. Of course other factors, such as hospitality and fan behaviour also contributed to this.
Research program Managing dangerous situations