A Sussex-based tour operator is banning all-male groups from its holiday homes in Portugal during next year's European football championships.

Pitch invasions and racist chanting at recent international matches have led to European football governing body Uefa threatening to ban England from the prestigious tournament.

Now The Villa Agency, based in Brighton, has blamed the "mindless minority" for its own ban.

The firm, in Meeting House Lane, started to take villa bookings as soon as last year's World Cup ended.

They asked people booking villas for next summer to put down a 15 per cent deposit to hold the property until this October before finalising the booking.

However, staff have toughened up their approach after becoming concerned about possible damage to the villas should England qualify.

Karen Lippitt, managing director of the agency, said: "The recent crowd problems at a number of England's games have caused us to reassess this course of action.

"Should England qualify, most of the fans will be travelling to Portugal in 2004 to support the team but there is that mindless minority who will be going to cause trouble.

"It is from this minority that we have to protect our properties."

The firm, the UK's largest independent tour operator to Portugal, will not accept bookings from single-sex groups for the duration of the tournament, from June 12 and July 4.

They will also demand the full, non-refundable booking deposit when the reservation is made and a full security deposit eight weeks before the start of the holiday.

England fans spilled on to Sunderland's Stadium of Light pitch while celebrating England's two goals in April's qualifying victory over Turkey.

Uefa then fined the English Football Association for the crowd's racist chants towards Turkish players and supporters and issued a final warning on supporters' behaviour.

The FA then refused to take up its ticket allocation for the return match in Turkey later this year.

Team captain David Beckham last week gave a televised message to fans urging them to behave in order to prevent England being kicked out of the tournament.

Supporters were praised for their good behaviour after last Tuesday's 2-1 friendly win over Serbia and Montenegro in Leicester.

English fans had previously been involved in clashes with Slovakian supporters during a qualifying match last October, which led to the Slovakian FA being fined and ordered to play a game behind closed doors.