The European Championships are a dodgy time for England. To be fair, any international tournament is. The main problem is England fans. I class them in the same vein as Manchester United fans. That is to say that they feel they should win everything because of who they are. As soon as the tournament started the old clichés were rolled out yet again: “the spirit of ’66”, “this is our year”, hashtag believe (I don’t know how to do actual hash signs on my Macbook). They were all out in force and it’s because of this that I avoid international tournaments like the plague. This time though I have taken a more keener interest because of all the news around the behaviour of England fans.
Now let me start by clarifying something: I am not, nor have I ever been, a football hooligan. I don’t go to matches and start fights and I don’t condone any such acts in or out of football. I was young once and I am guilty of getting a bit too merry and a bit too loud when I was out with the boys watching a big England game. The fun sometimes spilled outside of the pubs and we would chant in the street. We were never violent though. We never broke anything. We never intimidated anyone. We even used to get people involved in the fun. We were young lads, having a sing and a dance around. Most people used to look on with a smile (whilst probably thinking we were a bunch of clowns) but no one ever yelled at us. The police never had to break up any disturbances. We were lairy, yes, but not criminals.
Then I hear reports of fan violence and clashes with the police involving England fans in Lille. I have checked with various news sources and, to be honest, I can’t see where the England fans could be classed as the aggressors. The reports of the trouble with the Russian “Ultras” – a violent Russian fan group similar to the infamous Italian “Ultras” – all point to the Russians as being the instigators. Apparently they threw flares amongst other things at the England fans and that was how the trouble started. Granted it appears that the England fans retaliated but ask yourself: wouldn’t you if someone started throwing flares at you? We can all say in our rational minds that we might not react that way but when you’re in a group, and you’ve had a drink (and you have been berated all week by the Russians in the media), I think most people would find it difficult to turn the other cheek and calmly disperse.
The reports around the famous 16 injuries and 36 arrests before the England v Wales game also don’t really show me how the England fans are at fault. Every news source just says that there were groups of fans together drinking and chanting. I read somewhere that someone had lit a flare. Wow! How awful. Then the police start increasing pressure on the fans and it all kicks off. Everywhere that I have looked and in every news outlet that I have accessed, it doesn’t really look to me that the England fans are in any way culpable for the events that have thus far happened. Yes the fans might not be absolute moral examples for us all to follow, and yes there may be some bad apples in amongst them but, despite the complete lack of any evidence that I can see, the media seem to be trying to paint our fans as troublemakers. Why is this?
Hooliganism was a huge problem in England for much of the 80s and 90s. Groups of so-called “firms” would gang up and fight each other, usually nowhere near a football match ironically, and the press lapped it up. They are hard-wired to assume a group of English football fans together means trouble but, in my experience, they are wrong. I have been in these crowds and I can tell you, whilst it may not be suitable for your grandmother, we were certainly not bad people.
I will sign this off by saying that a group of my friends are in Spain right now and have been to televised games in pubs, with Welsh fans present as well. They have chanted and jumped around and gotten drunk and, crucially, they have had absolutely no trouble at all.