Fans travelling to watch England in action at Euro 2012 have been warned that racist Ukrainian football thugs could provide a “flashpoint” for violence.
English supporters and players are more likely to be on the receiving end of abuse than causing any trouble at next month’s tournament, a police chief has said.
Fewer than 3,000 fans are expected to be at the team’s opening matches, with more than 2,000 England supporters issued with banning orders to stop them travelling.
South Yorkshire Assistant Chief Constable Andy Holt, who is leading the UK police involvement in the tournament, said there is no intelligence that English fans are planning trouble.
Mr Holt is travelling to Ukraine and Poland with 23 other UK officers to try to help as many as 8,000 local armed police deal with fans.
He said football hooliganism remained more of a problem in the Ukraine after England had made great efforts to clean up its act in recent decades.
But he said it was a concern was that Ukrainian fans would bombard fans and players with abuse at matches to “prompt retaliation”.
“It may be a flashpoint for some sort of disorder if fans feel they are being unfairly treated,” he added.
The UK team of officers at the tournament, led by the Association of Chief Police Officers, will fly to the Ukraine and Poland in time for England’s first game against France in Donetsk on June 11.
A team of 18 will remain in the Ukraine while six will be deployed in Poland.
Mr Holt said: “The reality is that the overwhelming majority of England fans heading to Euro 2012 are there to support the national team and the game of football.
“Those who engage in any trouble must realise that they will feel the full force of local policing laws. Anyone involved in football-related trouble can also expect to face a football banning order when they return to the UK.
He added: “As this is the last major sporting event ahead of the Olympics, the eyes of the world will be on England fans and we will hopefully be showcasing the best of our supporters at home and abroad.”