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DOGS OF SOCCER WAR; 100 hardcore hooligans in secret plot to slip into Japan.

Byline: ANDY GARDNER, ANDREW DRUMMOND and JAMES WEATHERUP

BRITISH soccer hooligans are secretly plotting to wreck the World Cup.

More than 100 violent hard-core thugs are determined to wreak havoc in Japan after slipping into the country from Thailand.

The plan to disrupt the soccer tournament has been hatched by notorious troublemakers Chris Henderson and Steve Hickmott, who are based in the sex resort of Pattaya, police believe.

It is feared they are targeting England's crunch match with Argentina on June 7 for the worst outbreak of soccer violence since the riots in Belgium during Euro 2000.

Henderson, 42, and Hickmott, 46, once members of the feared Chelsea Headhunters gang of hooligans, run a bar called the Dog's Bollocks in Pattaya.

Last night Hickmott boasted: "There's a mob coming at the end of the month."

Henderson told an undercover reporter that gangs of hooligans would be travelling to Thailand from UK airports over the next few weeks.

He is then planning to arrange flights for them to slip un-noticed into Japan and get tickets for matches.

One yob, who is already in Pattaya but refused to be identified, said: "I'm going to Japan and I know 50 others leaving from Bangkok. They're not all nice boys. The 'recce' has already been done."

Under current legislation convicted hooligans can be banned from travelling to England matches abroad.

Police can also stop potential troublemakers leaving the UK for any destination.

But the hooligans are hoping to beat the bans by travelling long before the World Cup kicks off.

Criminals in Thailand are also known to be arranging false identification for banned fans.

The thugs want to beat security measures on direct flights from Britain by entering Japan via local flights from Bangkok or sneaking in through co-host nation South Korea.

They are even planning to travel on the day of the matches - the flight from Thailand to Japan is under six hours - to avoid being linked with trouble at games.

However, British undercover police have now infiltrated the hooligan gangs - just days before they were due to head out to Thailand.

Bryan Drew, of the National Criminal Intelligence Service, said: "We have intelligence to suggest more than 100 hooligans could be planning to travel to Thailand prior to the World Cup.

"Some of these troublemakers will stay in Thailand for the World Cup, but we believe that others in this group will try and get into Japan or Korea by the back door to evade security.

"We intend to stop anybody intent on causing trouble from entering Japan. There are plans in place and we know what is going on in Thailand. If England fans want to travel to Thailand we cannot stop them. But if they are hooligans they will find it extremely hard to get to the World Cup."

Around 1,000 hooligans will have banning orders imposed on them before the World Cup begins on June 2.

NCIS have already passed a huge intelligence dossier to the Thai authorities.

But some known thugs have won the right to travel to Thailand by claiming to magistrates that they are just going on holiday. They can only be arrested if they try to get into Japan at the last minute.

Police fear convicted Chelsea hooligans Stuart Glass, Tony Covele and Darren Wells may be planning to join the gangs plotting World Cup mayhem.

Glass, 35, skinhead leader of the Chelsea Headhunters, is suspected by police of being a key organiser for the ultra-violent Combat 18 gang of soccer thugs.

Covele, 41, is another Headhunters "general". He has been a football thug for 20 years and has a string of convictions.

Wells, who was jailed for six months last year for possession of a knife, is also a Headhunters veteran.

NCIS undercover officers, who last year prevented outbreaks of violence in the Germany versus England game, by stopping hundreds of thugs leaving the UK, have been tracking gangs in Britain.

One officer said: "We know there are some thugs who will do anything to get to Japan. They live for fighting and if they get to the World Cup they will attack anybody who gets in their way.

"It is vital that we stop them beating our security by flying via countries like Thailand."

Meanwhile, Hickmott and Henderson are also planning to swamp the World Cup with thousands of rip-off replica shirts.

They have already made fortunes out of copying official sports gear, such as Manchester United shirts, for just pounds 2 and selling them at huge profits.

Counterfeit football gear, including fake Chelsea and Arsenal tops, are openly on sale at Henderson's Jumbo Sports shop, which is next door to Hickmott's bar. Hickmott denied being a joint owner of the shop - but admitted bringing tops into Thailand to sell.

NCIS believe many of the hooligans travelling to Thailand will act as couriers for Henderson and Hickmott, taking the counterfeit shirts into Japan and South Korea.

Mr Drew said: "There has always been a strong link between habitual football hooligans and criminal activity. They often go hand-in-hand.

"We believe that some of the hooligans travelling to Thailand will be used as salesmen to smuggle and distribute the counterfeit goods.

"These people could end up making thousands and thousands of pounds selling counterfeits. They have a tremendous group of associates in the football hooligan world. These people will be in Thailand and can be trusted by them."

The smuggled sports gear will be distributed throughout Japan and South Korea and sold on street corners and near stadiums to cash in on the huge demand for souvenirs.

The biggest market will be in replica shirts for host nations Japan and South Korea, closely followed by England, Argentina and Italy.

Mr Drew added: "NCIS have identified three main gangs, from West Ham's notorious Intercity Firm, Chelsea's Headhunters and Manchester United."

They believe other smaller clubs will also be represented and fear the mix of club rivalry and cheap booze will contribute to the likelihood of violence.

Henderson was a Chelsea Headhunter in the 1980s and gloated over his violent past in the book Who Wants It? It is a tale of drinking and gang violence. However, Henderson claims: "No innocent member of the public ever got attacked in 20 years of football violence."

Hickmott is also author of a book about his hooligan exploits, Armed for the Match. In it he describes a Chelsea gang squirting ammonia in the faces of Spurs fans during a match.

CAPTION(S):

MR FIX-IT: Steve Hickmott; LEADER: Stuart Glass; HEADHUNTER: Wells; 'GENERAL'...Tony Covele; MASTERMIND: Former Chelsea 'Headhunter' Chris Henderson (circled) outside his bar in Pattaya
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Publication:Sunday Mirror (London, England)
Date:May 5, 2002
Words:1107
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