Up to 500 Serbian hooligans expected to target England’s first Euro 2024 game

<span><a class="link " href="" data-i13n="sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link" data-ylk="slk:England;sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link;itc:0">England</a> fans during Friday’s friendly against Iceland at Wembley. About 40,000 are expected to travel to Gelsenkirchen for Sunday’s game.</span><span>Photograph: Pedro Porru/SPP/Shutterstock</span>

German police believe a squad of up to 500 Serbian hooligans will try to cause violence at England men’s first game at Euro 2024 on Sunday.

Peter Both, the chief of police in Gelsenkirchen, said the challenge would be to intercept the group before they were able to clash with England fans in the west German city.

England play Serbia on Sunday evening at 9pm local time (2000 BST) in the Veltins Arena, which is home to the Bundesliga 2 club Schalke.

An estimated 40,000 English fans are expected to travel to the game along with between 5,000 and 8,000 Serbian supporters for what has been designated a “high-risk” tie by Uefa after consultation with the police in Germany, Serbia and the UK.

Both said the German police did not have “concrete intelligence, concrete information” but believed “up to 400 or 500 violence-seeking Serbian hooligans will travel to Germany, but we don’t know it exactly, and so that’s our problem at the moment”.

He added: “I guess the biggest challenge for us will be to identify violent, disruptive groups at an early stage, to separate them from peaceful and law-abiding fans, that will be our biggest challenge.”

More than 1,000 German police officers will be on duty on Sunday, supported by hooligan spotters and a riot unit, although Both said water cannon would not be deployed.

More than 1,600 fans from England with football banning orders have been forced to surrender their passports to the police from 4 June until the final on 14 July to ensure they do not attempt to attend matches in Germany.

Both said German police had “brilliant” cooperation with the UK authorities and that many known hooligans from England would be blocked from travelling, but they “had to expect that a few of them will be here in Germany, I’m absolutely convinced”.

He suggested that coordination with the Serbian police had not been as smooth. “It’s not as good, like the cooperation with England, but it’s OK,” he said.

German police will start temporary checks along the country’s borders from Friday.

England fans will be allowed to drink in the Veltins Arena although not in the stands and will be limited to buying two drinks at a time.

Those outside the arena will be encouraged to get on a free shuttle bus to a fanzone at Trabrennbahn racecourse rather than mass in the city centre, which Both said was too small for the numbers expected.

Both said his officers would not react to the singing of offensive songs such as “Ten German Bombers”.

He said: “We will approach all the English supporters with an open mind, and I expect all my colleagues to treat them fairly and proportionately, and we only will intervene in the event of any criminal or public safety incident.

“The chanting of Ten German Bombers is not criminal. It’s not forbidden in Germany. It’s stupid. It’s a stupid song. The English national coach said about that and he’s absolutely right. It’s ridiculous. It’s a stupid song, but it’s not forbidden.”

Organisers of Euro 2024 are also concerned by the risk of a terrorist attack or an attempt by Russia to stir violence.

There will be a ban on the use of drones throughout Gelsenkirchen on match day and the police have a system that is able to down any unmanned aerial vehicles. Both said: “We are able to force them to land.”

He added: “Of course, there is a terror threat throughout Europe and also throughout Germany and for the upcoming tournament, but we don’t have concrete intelligence, concrete information, so it’s a potential terror threat.

“The terrorists want to generate fear. We say to all our guests, don’t let that happen. Enjoy your stay in Germany, and the German authorities are well prepared.”