World Cup: Manaus mayor asks England fans to behave 'like priests'

Mayor of host city prepares to welcome the 7,000 England fans who are expected to attend game against Italy

The mayor of Manaus is calling on England supporters to behave with the gentility of priests when they visit his Amazonian city for the team's opening World Cup match as the Brazilian hosts beef up security ahead of the tournament.

Arthur Virgilio Noto – who hit the headlines last year by declaring that England were not welcome in Manaus – told the Guardian he expected 7,000 fans from the UK before the game against Italy on the 14 June.

Despite his earlier comments and the reputation of English hooligans, the mayor said he was now glad to host Roy Hodgson's team and was not expecting trouble from their supporters.

"I think everything will be OK. It'll be such a beautiful event – why would anyone want to make a disturbance?" he said between sips of Red Bull at a reception room in the city hall. "When I go to England, I behave like a peaceful priest. I hope everyone who comes to Manaus will also behave like a priest."

The mayor said his confidence was based on Fifa ticketing arrangements, which would make it difficult for blocks of fans to gather inside the stadium, and on extra policing on the streets outside.

The central government plans to deploy 170,000 police, troops and private guards in the 12 host cities during the World Cup. As at previous tournaments, the organisers will screen fans with x-ray machines and metal detectors on their way into the stadiums.

Border controls will be tightened to prevent the entry of known hooligans from countries with a reputation for football violence. UK authorities are also imposing travel bans on convicted thugs. Before England's warm-up game on 4 June, 1,452 people have been ordered to hand their passports to the police for the duration of the tournament.

Despite their reputation in the 1980s and 1990s, English fans have won plaudits at recent tournaments and there were no arrests for football-related violence in 2006 or 2010.

Brazil, however, has a growing problem. In each of the past three years, football-related killings have hit a new record. According to the newspaper Globo, 23 people died in 2012 and 30 in 2013.

The mayor of Manaus says this is not an issue in his city. "Fans elsewhere in Brazil are very violent, but not here," says Virgilio Noto. "In Manaus we don't even have a good football team. Our main sport here is jujitsu. That is less violent than hooliganism."

Manaus has one of the highest murder rates in Brazil. But Virgilio Noto says British tabloids have exaggerated the problem. Referring to a Daily Mirror headline last year that declared his city to be a "crime-ridden hell-hole" and "one of the deadliest places on Earth", the mayor says he does not appreciate this kind of journalism.

"I'd never buy a newspaper like this," he said. "I want to use my time better."

But he has mended fences with the English Football Association. Relations were strained before the World Cup draw last December, when the England manager, Roy Hodgson, said Manaus was a city he wanted to avoid. At the time, the mayor responded angrily that England would not be welcome.

With less than two weeks to go until they arrive, he said those verbal scuffles were history. "I just wanted to get even. He shot at me. I shot back. Nobody got hurt," he reflects. "Roy Hodgson came here with the ambassador and William Hague. I had a very good impression of Hodgson – he's cultivated and intelligent."

The mayor said he could understand why Hodgson was concerned about the humidity of the Amazonian city. Visiting teams – even from other parts of Brazil – tend to flag in the second half of games in Manaus.

But he said this should not be used as an excuse for defeat.

"I work 12 to 14 hours a day, but I can't change the climate. England and Italy both come from the same continent so they should be affected equally. The one who prepares best ahead of the game may win," he said. "I think Roy Hodgson is very smart to base his training camp in Miami, where the climate is also hot and humid."


Jonathan Watts in Manaus

The GuardianTramp

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