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It was a battle of wits between Scotland's most notorious football thugs and the police.

The casuals were sure they were one step ahead as they plotted to sabotage the Tartan Army's peaceful march at the World Cup finals.

But they were stopped in their tracks thanks to months of detailed planning and painstaking intelligence work by Scots police.

Just a few miles from their destination, French police pulled over a coach carrying 58 casuals heading for Bordeaux where the hooligans had meticulously planned a pitched battle with rival groups of Scots football yobs.

The Salou crew was made up of hardened elements who follow Rangers, Hearts and Hibs - sworn enemies at home but united in their perverted effort to bring shame on Scotland and the fans who have done so much to enhance our reputation.

Their opponents were to be casuals from Aberdeen, Dundee United and Stoke. The confrontation was planned for the Stade Lescure a few hours before Scotland kicked off their second game against Norway.

This may be the World Cup but it is also a world stage. And tens of millions of viewers, already sickened by rioting English yobs, would be watching.

There was little doubt that if a small band of determined thugs brought violence to the packed Bordeaux streets, the Tartan Army's outrage could erupt in a violent backlash against their countrymen.

But as the casuals plotted the battle in Bordeaux, they didn't realise police had followed their every move.

Even as the Scotland team was striving to qualify for France 98, officers were anticipating the thugs' plans.

Initial information on known football hooligans was supplied more than a year ago by Scotland's eight forces and dossiers on suspects were drawn up at the police football intelligence unit in Paisley - part of the National Criminal Intelligence Service.

In January this year, it became clear Scotland's clash with Norway was the favoured battleground of the organised band.

A well-known football casual was circulating chilling invitations on the Internet, challenging other casuals to join the violence planned for June 16.

Crucially, police were also keeping their ears to the ground in the territories of known trouble- makers in Aberdeen, Glasgow and Edinburgh.

Most were ardent fans and regulars at Saturday afternoon Premier League games.

Police identified one of the Salou crew's leaders as sports coach Sandy Chugg, 26 - leader of the Inter City Firm of Rangers thugs.

With extensive contacts across the country, he was easily able to recruit rogue elements of supporters to the Salou brigade.

But Chugg's reputation also made him a target for police as they continued to scout for information on the casuals' World Cup plans.

Tactics included careful logging and cross referencing of tip-offs and the use of moles at football matches and in supporters' pubs. The casuals always thought they were ahead of the police, but their careless talk revealed their hand.

The breakthrough came with the defection of Hibs casual Andrew Blance.

It's claimed he turned police informer and passed on information about the Salou plan to his handlers.

By this time, officers had gathered vital information and pictures of the suspected ringleaders.

In January, they discussed their fears and tightened response plans after meeting European counterparts at a conference in Paris.

Meanwhile, the casuals had their own planning to do and, after studying ways of entering France unchecked, finally arranged to meet in Salou, in north east Spain.

Travelling discreetly in small groups, the men booked package holidays through High Street travel agents to the sunshine resort on the popular Costa Dorada, not far from Barcelona.

One group of Hibs casuals boarded a 7.30am flight from Glasgow airport last Saturday. They behaved impeccably as they travelled to their destination. Drawing attention to themselves could have harmed their plans.

Other weekend flights carried out more of the group and they all gathered at pre- arranged rendezvous points - the Flower of Scotland bar and the Salou Suite apartments.

To most people, the young men appeared to be ordinary sun seekers just like thousands of other Scots holidaymakers who flock to the resort each year.

But by this time, undercover police were watching their every move.

They suspected that a scouting group had travelled to Salou months ago to arrange accommodation and finalise battle plans.

And their fears were confirmed when ringleaders failed to appear at ports and airports with the nucleus of the Tartan Army before Scotland's first two matches.

Football intelligence officers alerted police in Spain and supplied them with photographs of the suspects - and a constant watch on the casuals' movements was arranged. Scottish police officers travelled to Salou to assist the operation.

The thugs, still unaware of their police shadows, tried to take further steps to dupe the authorities by hiring a bus in Lloret de Mar - 100 miles north of Salou.

But when they left early on Tuesday morning for the five-hour trip over to Bordeaux, Spanish police were on their tail.

At the border, French police took over, following the bus in unmarked cars and via CCTV cameras.

At one point, the French feared they had lost the coach, wrecking months of patient planning. But after half an hour, it was picked up again on camera. As the bus reached the outskirts of Bordeaux the police decided to strike.

It was intercepted at 7am by two French officers on motorcycles.

Riot police, who had been on standby, arrived shortly afterwards to make sure there were no problems in ensuring the renegade Scots followed instructions.

The thugs had nowhere to run. They were trapped in an ambush which had taken months to plan and involving police from three countries.

They were escorted to a school hall, where a crack squad of riot police guarded them while they watched Scotland's 1- 1 draw on TV.

Police used a French law which gives them the power to hold foreign nationals without charge for 24 hours.

Consul officials visited the men who were then herded on to their coach and driven back to Spain.

Yesterday, the thugs had returned to the beach at Salou and resumed their role as holidaymakers.

Their behaviour still gave little indication of violence - or their frustration and anger at being caught.

Most are expected home in Glasgow on Saturday. But some are thinking about staying for the rest of Scotland's World Cup campaign.

Those who do can be sure of one thing - they are being watched.



The man with the pounds 5000 bounty on his head last night laughed off the threats.

Andrew Blance, 33, from Inverkeithing, Fife, was jailed for five years in 1991 for an axe attack on a pub bouncer in Dunfermline.

He made his name as one of the Hibs Baby Crew, the younger thugs who caused havoc at football grounds in Scotland in the late 1980s.

He blamed Hibs ringleader James "Fat" McLeod, one of the organisers of the trip to Salou, as the man behind the threat.

He said: "Ever since we fell out, all Fat McLeod has ever done is call everyone else grasses. He's an idiot.

"The trip to Salou has been common knowledge for months. This bunch of amateurs have been talking too much about what they were going to do so."

Blance said he was not worried about the reported death threat.

He added: "McLeod is all mouth. I have been keeping my head down and have not been in any trouble for ages."

Fat McLeod, 27, is recognised as one of the main players in the small band of thugs - the Capital City Service - who attach themselves to Hibs.

He recently formed a partnership with David Keddie and opened a clothes shop called Original Casuals in South Clerk Street, Edinburgh.

Money seems no object and in January he splashed out pounds 70,000 for a flat in Eildon Street, in the up- market Goldenacre area of Edinburgh.

Life in the quiet street has been a noisy nightmare for neighbours since McLeod moved in with his girlfriend, Tracy, and their three-year-old son.
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Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Jun 18, 1998
Previous Article:A EUROPEAN TROPHY.
Next Article:A fond farewell from Bordeaux.

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