Thus far, despite numerous requests (44 at the last count), I have refused to make much comment on the trouble at EURO 2016. The main reason being that I’ve become as tired of saying ‘I told you so’ as I’m sure people have of hearing me say it.
But equally, it wasn’t exactly difficult to see how it would pan out as it was fairly obvious that as soon as the English came under attack and fought back to defend themselves, the general public, fuelled by the British media, would brand them all as scum until the reality hit at which point they would change their generally ill-informed tune. We would then see the usual drivel being spouted by the press (‘did it ever go away?’ ‘why always us?’ ‘they’re all Brexiters’ etc) and blame apportioned to everyone except those who are actually guilty. Including me. Oh yes, amongst others, The Mail claimed that Russian hooligans have been inspired by my books and of course, Green Street.
Finally, we would start to see some sensible reporting of the problem including some serious investigation which is of course, exactly what has happened and where we are now. It’s a well worn path and one which someone like me, who has walked it many times, is bored of treading. Hence, it’s better to avoid it and wallow in the knowledge that pretty much everything we wrote in Everywhere We Go back in 1996, was bang on the money and continues to be relevant some 20 years later. A sad indictment of the game.
However, there is one element of the violence in France which has intrigued me enough to want to speak out and it’s one which not many people have picked up on.
For what we are seeing here is not simple hooliganism, what we are seeing is a clash of hooligan cultures. Or to put it another way, English Disease versus Ultra.
I talk about the differences between the two elements in great depth in my book Eurotrashed. The Rise and Rise of Europe’s Football Hooligans but in simple terms, those English/Brits who are not averse to the odd confrontation at games tend to keep confined to match days whilst for the average Ultra, it’s more of a 24/7 thing. As a result, it’s much more organised and much more violent.
That said, Ultra, like hooliganism, is a catch-all term. The groups we are seeing from Russia are very different from the Ultra who infest Italian football who are in turn, different from the Barras Brava who follow football in Latin America. Indeed, we also have a fledgling Ultra culture emerging in the US although there is little to suggest that violence will ever become ingrained in MLS.
The one constant however, is that these groups look to English football as the home of hooliganism and so when the opportunity comes to confront the historical ‘top boys’ in battle, it will usually be grasped with both hands. What we are seeing with the Russians at EURO 2016 is the most brazen and public example of this although ironically , it may well backfire with many English groups already dismissing the attacks on innocent fans as being little more than cowardly and certainly against the spirit of the culture.
Quite what the next few days has in store is anyones guess although as I type this, Lille is on high alert with Russia due to play there tomorrow and the city full of fans from many nations including England and Wales who play in Lens on Thursday. There is also the small matter of the Poles, the Germans and the Turks (all of whom have already been involved in trouble which has gone largely unreported) not to mention Ukraine, Slovakia, Sweden, Croatia and of course, the locals who, as we saw in Marseille, are not averse to picking off the odd Englishman.
But whatever unfolds, given the response from UEFA today, the consequences for those nations whose fans get involved in any further trouble are going to be significant.
Let’s just hope that sanctions are all we have to talk about once the dust has settled.