Following the recent wins by England in successive World Cup knockout stage matches, a feat only achieved twice before in this competition by the men’s national team, there was mass celebrations across the nation. However, there were also reports of public disturbances and damage to public property, most notably an ambulance being vandalised on Borough High Street in London and a taxi being vandalised in Nottingham city centre, a Taxi containing the driver. Clearly these are deplorable events and ones at first glance may lead to the conclusion that this is just typical football fan behaviour – but is this fair?
DCI Paul Wells of Essex police commented on twitter: “do you remember when we won the rugby World Cup and everyone started throwing bottles at each other and smashing up ambulances?…….me neither.” But subsequently stated the comparison between the two sports was unfair, nonetheless that this is reflective of the typical culture of supporting England at the major tournaments. So is this appropriation of football and public disorder fair?
Football of course has a history of crowd trouble, going back to the dark days of football fan hooliganism and violence in the 1970’s and 1980’s. However, the prevalence of this at football grounds in the UK has since been diminished since the advent of the Premier League and all-seater stadiums making football games a day-out for all the family. Current national weekly attendance figures for football matches during a regular in-season weekend are in the region of ½ million attendees in England alone. Thankfully incidents of public disorder within football as a result are extremely rare whilst not eradicated entirely.
This is a sign of the changing face of English football, from the days of regular crowd trouble on a weekly basis up and down the country, through successful measures like football banning order and community projects led by the FA and football clubs the level of football associated public disorder has fallen considerably and the reputation of the national sport has been revived.
These measures go to show that football has and continues to accept its responsibility to eradicate football associated violence and public disorder. These shouldn’t be undermined either, just look at Millwall football club. A name synonymous with the football violence culture of the 70s and 80s, now synonymous with the brilliant community schemes it and other football clubs like it support. A clubs who’s supporters group have since these events raised money to fund the repair bill for the damage to the London Ambulance on Borough high street.
Football clubs across the UK in fact do a great deal to support the communities within their local catchment areas and beyond, particularly supporting communities that used to be a breeding ground for the type of football hooliganism spoken so insightfully about by various authors including JH Kerr’s book “Understanding Football Hooliganism” or in first-hand accounts by those involved at the time such as “Scally” by Andy Nicholls.
Thankfully those days are gone and football is now a widely celebrated leisure activity across England and the UK more widely. Football is the most popular and one of the most highly participated-in sports in the country, and the World Cup is a national event – with almost half the population watching the England vs Sweden game on TV, it truly captures the imagination of the nation. So surely any public disorder associated with this event is more appropriately a reflection of our society at large rather than specifically on any football fan culture?
In fact, the football violence of the past was also to a degree really just reflective of the society at the time. Whilst football has dealt and continues to deal with the causes of its historic problems with hooliganism, these problems also reflect issues and problems within society and local community as a whole. Furthermore, anyone who listens to the BBC’s wonderful World Football Phone-in will know that a national football team and it’s supporters are often reflective of the national society and it’s national culture, something the pundits commenting on the various global regions often illustrate well.
England fans abroad were of course formerly associated with some of the worst and more persistent forms of football hooliganism but the scenes seen in France at the 2016 European Championships are thankfully now isolated, rare and nothing like that has been reported in Russia at this years World Cup so far.
That said there was and to a degree still is a issue of football fans reflecting strongly their association to a football team in their actions, which historically partially led to football hooliganism. These days it is instead largely reflected by tiresome arguments on social media.
But as a football fan I accept this is something football hasn’t addressed fully. Look at the out-spilling of animosity from my team Brighton and our rivals Crystal Palace leading to crowd disorder at the derby games last season. However as stated before this is thankfully a rare occurrence and I can account from my own experience that my club Brighton has a wonderful family friendly culture at its football matches, like many others up and down the country.
Whilst this is an issue football needs to address I feel this is a discussion for another day, as the disorder seen on the streets of England following recent wins from the men’s national team at the World Cup are more reflective of the dangerous and widespread binge-drinking culture in the UK more widely.
The mix of a global event like the FIFA World Cup and glorious summer weather left the pubs and bars of towns and cities across the country rammed from lunch time and public services such as police and ambulances unable to meet the demand they were subsequently met with. Anyone who has witness an A&E on a Friday or Saturday night in any UK town or City will know this is an issue independent of football.
Whilst football has a history of violence and disorder that should rightly be condemned, the events in recent days and weeks do not reflect that same narrative and those like DCI Paul Wells attempting to do so, should look at society more widely to find the answers to those issues that led to these events rather than wiping their hands with it and place the responsibility at football’s door.