‘Euro 2024 hooligan spotters do something 99% of people can’t – I helped find them’ | Football | Sport

A huge police presence in Germany has largely kept Euro 2024 in check, but it’s not all riot gear, water tanks and armed officers. Some individuals, with a rare ability possessed by less than 1 per cent of the population, are on patrol with a simple task: To look out for a familiar face.

Even the briefest glimpse of a face can be enough for a ‘super recogniser’ to store it away for safekeeping. And that comes in handy when German authorities are on the lookout for known criminals, threats to public safety or individuals not permitted to attend matches at this summer’s Euros.

Professor Josh P Davis of the University of Greenwich is a leader in the field. And he has spent the past few years developing and distributing tests to the German police to help them identify who, on their books, has that elite power of recall.

“We’ve been working for so long with the Bundespolizei and they’re leading, in many ways, even though they weren’t the first police force to do this,” he told Express Sport. “They’re using super recognisers in all sorts of ways. The Bundespolizei have got particularly high standards. The people they employ as super recognisers have the ability of well under 1 per cent of the population.”

Professor Davis continued: “Sometimes super recognisers can remember someone they went to school with while walking down the street. I think the longest I’ve known is 38 years – they bumped into the sister of a school friend and recognised them from primary school. Some super recognisers are very slow to learn faces, but once it’s in there, it’s in there for years.”

The life of a super recogniser who earns a living from their gift is an unusual one. Working alongside artificial intelligence systems; super recognisers patrol transport hubs, catch trains and buses, and pore over CCTV footage waiting for known troublemakers to crop up.

It’s an old practice which has become more advanced in recent years as police forces around the world look to use their employees in the most effective way possible.

“For many decades, before super recognisers happened, there were police spotters who followed fans around. Many of them still do,” added Professor Davis. “They’ll have a big list of photographs, targets. Some officers will be wearing a uniform but others will be dressed as fans, undercover. I can imagine the German police are using the same sort of tactics – undercover super recognisers calling in if something does go wrong.”

Given that it’s a natural-born trait, super recognisers are not trained, but found. And Professor Davis is already working with authorities in Queensland, Australia, with a view to getting their own operation in order before they host the 2032 Olympic Games.

Those who show promise in the initial testing phase – a relatively small percentage of those who try out – are invited back for a more difficult, final phase. Testing involves exercises on short and long-term memory, as well as simultaneous face matching and spotting faces in a crowd which, according to Professor Davis, is the hardest part. “It’s just over 15 minutes of video clips and they’re given a list of actors’ faces to try and seek out,” he said. “And they’re crowds! If they do well on that, they’re exceptionally good.”

While Professor Davis is an expert in finding the super recognisers relied on by German police to minimise trouble at Euro 2024, he isn’t one of them. “I’m astonished when I see what some of these people can do,” he explained. “I sometimes think the results are unbelievable, but they’re genuine. I’m worse than average. The more I see them, the worse I feel.”

Fancy yourself as a super recogniser? Find out more HERE

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