Urawa Reds out to entice away fans back

TOKYO - Japan's Urawa Reds are trying to repair Saitama Stadium's image as an intimidating and potentially dangerous place for rivals fans to visit. The club was fined a Japanese record $185,000 last year following violent clashes between fans after a J-League match against Gamba Osaka. Faced with dwindling numbers of away fans, Japan's best-supported club has launched a charm offensive to make their home ground a more welcoming place. "Saitama Stadium has a bit of an image for being a frightening place," Reds president Mitsuo Hashimoto told Monday's Sports Nippon daily. "We want to make it more friendly." Urawa have put up welcome banners for away fans at the nearest railway station while new measures will include showing highlights of their opponents' games on the stadium's screen. In May last year, Urawa's 2002 World Cup stadium witnessed arguably the worst incident of crowd violence since the J-League was launched in 1993. Riot police were mobilised as fans tore down safety fences and ripped up seats while some 5,000 angry Reds fans blocked off the exit for visiting Gamba fans after the away side's 3-2 win. Missiles were hurled and Reds fans smashed through security fencing to get at the Gamba supporters. Security officials rushed to intervene but not before one home fan toppled over the edge of the stands, breaking a foot. Around 1,000 Gamba fans spent three hours penned into the ground before being evacuated by police cars and vans once the Urawa fans had been dispersed.