The FA must act after England fans’ shameful acts
There has largely been silence, only the noise of glass smashing on to flesh, the hiss of tear gas or the whine coming from police sirens
WE shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight in the streets, we shall fight in the stands, we shall fight outside Pierre’s wine bar. We shall fight to bring shame on our country.
These, of course, are not quite the words that Winston Churchill delivered to a nation from the floor of the House of Commons back on June 4, 1940. Seventy-six years ago the nation was in the depths of war. Three generations on and England are still battling on foreign shores, but in a way that would surely leave the late prime minister spinning in his grave.
While national pride drove on the troops in the Second World War – hooliganism, arrogance, alcohol and vengeance seem to be the order of the day in what has been a damning few days for thousands of “fans” rioting their way through Marseille.
Since Thursday our television screens, newspapers and social media feeds have been filled with truly horrendous scenes of violence that make the “over exuberance” in the wake of the Scottish Cup final look like an audition for It’s A Knockout.
In an age of technology that turns every football fan with a smartphone in their pocket into a video journalist, hundreds if not thousands of clips have flooded Facebook and Twitter. One showed an elderly local standing in the middle of a square before a cowardly punch to the head from behind rendered him motionless on the bloodstained pavement. Another depicted more than 100 English supporters hurling plastic chairs, glass bottles and bricks up a side street towards a group of Russian yobs who appeared to also be sharing the same brain cell.
Before we go any further, it would be remiss of me to lay all of the blame on our neighbours south of the Border over a shameful few days. UEFA have opened proceedings against the Russians for the events inside the Stade Velodrome towards the end of their 1-1 draw with England. The sight of England fans scampering to safety while a vigilante group of opposing supporters surged their way across a rather menacing piece of tarpaulin has quite rightly been condemned by European football’s governing body. The fact large gangs of Russians rampaging the streets of Marseille, many with their faces masked, just hours before kick-off should have acted as a warning that it may have been an idea to provide some sort of segregation inside the stadium. Just a thought.
But I digress. The violent end to Saturday night’s game is what finally spurred UEFA into action. One can only imagine if matters would have escalated to that degree if they, as well as others, had acted appropriately when they should have.
The statement from the Football Association last night failed to take any responsibility for the actions of an element of their support, nor did it, as UEFA requested, make a plea to their own fans to show some intelligence and behave.
For The FA to take such a back seat in what has been a shameful weekend is nothing short of a disgrace, and it will be intriguing to see what they do now UEFA have warned both nations that they could face disqualification from the tournament if we get a repeat performance. You’d not bet against it.
After all, we are dealing with a breed of supporter that goes to a country that has been a target for terrorists and sings about Islamic State. It beggars belief. In 2000, England fans battled with police, while only two years ago in Brazil officers had to step in during their last game against Costa Rica.
The topic of strict liability has been on the agenda in Scotland over the last few weeks in the wake of those worrying scenes at Hampden last month, and events in the last few days will only make it even more of a topic point. And quite rightly so.
It is not enough for The FA to say they condemn acts of bampottery while being conspicuous by their silence in terms of trying to appeal to their own flock.
Despite who the finger of blame is being pointed at for starting the whole thing off – it varies from England, Russia to the police – a failure to accept any sort of wrongdoing smacks of the same arrogance shown by those causing havoc in Marseille.
At domestic and international level the behaviour of the British football fan abroad has been a source of embarrassment for decades. Enough is enough. These cretins need to feel the force of authority both inside and outside of football with the same ruthlessness demonstrated with the blow that left that helpless French OAP unconscious.
Hiding behind the excuse spouted by football people that “you’d be punishing the wrong people” by sending a team home is surely no longer relevant. We went beyond that the moment a Russian casual or an English yob stepped across the border.
There was leadership shown in that Churchill speech in 1940. So far, there has been little evidence of it from The FA.
All we can hope is UEFA stay loyal to their world and rid football of this cancer that threatens to turn a global showcase of sport into a war zone.
TOMORROW Matthew Lindsay
UNDERBELLY: The truly disgraceful side to international football has reared its ugly head again this month