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Racism, booze, violence…Welcome to Wembley

Racism, booze, violence…Welcome to Wembley

Luke Moore on 7 September 2011

Just why are England fans so angry?

‘There were ten German bombers in the air….’ is belted out by four alcohol-sodden morons, who scream with misplaced enthusiasm outside Wembley, the ‘Home of Football’. That’s football. Foot. Ball. A sport. A sport where people kick a ball around to each other and….well, if you’re reading this, you probably know how it works by now.

If anyone’s looking for further reasoning why England cannot sell out their national stadium for a competitive qualifier against fellow Home Nations opposition packed with Premier League players, beyond high ticket prices and the ridiculous location of the ground, they could do worse than to look at the threatening, snarling and downright uncomfortable atmosphere that pervades everywhere, the pathetic, jingoistic stench with an undercurrent of transparent racism and anger at every turn, both inside the stadium and out.

Just a short time before the ‘ten German bombers’ incident, (a song in reference to World War II, an event that finished 66 years ago, and hardly anything to do with a football match against Wales), a group of other unruly England fans* had stopped a train by jumping up and down on it in a lager-fuelled rage screaming (yes, actually screaming) ‘No Surrender to the IRA’, a song with severely right-of-centre connotations, adopted from Irish Loyalists by Combat 18, who took to singing it in between ‘Sieg Heil’s. Nice. I’m not really sure what that’s got to do with a football match against Wales, either.

The most confusing thing about the tension, drama and nastiness that infiltrates England games by an alarmingly large number of fans is that you’d expect them to actually be enjoying themselves. They like football, they clearly like England (a little too much, probably), so why are they so angry? What drives someone to hurl themselves down thirty rows of seats to yell profanities at England’s manager Fabio Capello like ‘Fuck off Fabio you cunt! Yeah, that’s right, FUCK OFF! FUCK OFF BACK TO ITALY YOU CUNT!’ before storming out half an hour before the end of a game that England were actually winning (yes, this happened last night, too)? It’s surely not football related. Capello has not been the shining light and ambassador for progressive football for England that we’d all hoped, but you can’t argue he’s been THAT bad. He has easily the best win percentage of any England manager ever, nearly double that of Kevin Keegan, a manager who was actually quite popular. In this case, the reason is more primal, more regressive and more unsavoury: he’s not English. Whether the England manager should always be English is a different conversation, but is it morally right to question someone’s ability to do a job based on where their parents had sex? Certainly not. Again, xenophobia prevails.

Some would argue that the high ticket price makes people angry, like it’s a sort of ready-made excuse to justify behaviour of this sort. I’d dismiss that out of hand; people know the price when they pay, and they choose to pay it. The amount of money paid is not inversely proportional to how well people should behave when attending and travelling to and from games, and it’s certainly not inversely proportional to how tolerant they are to people from other countries. It’s a complete non-sequitor. We also know it’s nothing to do with ticket prices when you can pop down to your local pub and see the same imbeciles behaving in exactly the same manner, only in a way that is even more futile: actually berating a giant TV screen, an activity that is only punctuated by a desire to shove as much lager down their throats as possible. At least at the game there’s a chance the target of your anger can actually hear you.

Upon leaving the game last night, I was pondering whether I’d like to take my parents along to an England game, or my girlfriend, and it didn’t take me long to come to the decision that I definitely wouldn’t. It’s not that I’d fear for their safety, per se; my parents and my girlfriend are White British and would be supporting England, so I doubt they’d feel the ire of any of England’s more unsavoury element directly. It’s just that I wouldn’t want them subjected to the language, attitude and behaviour. As someone that loves football, I feel embarrassed by it, and I’m not even a parent that takes their children to games. I felt genuinely uncomfortable for some of the decent, normal people that had taken their children along to see that game last night. I was embarrassed by proxy.

But that said, it’s not all nationally motivated. Some of it is just pure thuggery. I had to stop myself apologising on behalf of the England fan who had smashed another England fan in the face, just in front of us and in front of a man and his son who were almost certainly at one of their first England games together. ‘What was your first experience as an England fan, Johnny?’ ‘Oh, when I was 8 years old and that guy’s England shirt was completely soaked through with blood.’

So, if The FA is reading this, they should know that it’s not just the prohibitive price of tickets, food and drink and the location of Wembley keeping people away from England games, it’s probably the clientele as well, and depressingly, I don’t have the first idea of what to do about it.

*yes, fans. Not ‘fans’. Whether we like it or not, they are genuine fans of England, and we shouldn’t make excuses by claiming ‘oh, they’re not real fans’. They are. They’re one of us, and that’s possibly the most unsettling fact of all.

Luke Moore is a founding member of The Football Ramble, and can be heard on the podcast every week. He also has contributed to ESPN, BBC 5 Live, BBC Radio London, Sky News and ITV.


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Great article Lukey.
by Matthew on 07 September 2011 at 01:02 PM

Great piece Lukey, you've got to hope that a few people in Wembley power chairs take note of what you've said and perhaps even debate acting upon it. You can bet your bottom dollar you weren't the only one to walk away from the game with this disgraceful view.
by Ben Carr on 07 September 2011 at 01:08 PM

Great article Luke! I've lived in Spain for two years and people are totally bemused by our 'hooligans'... I have to shrug my shoulders and admit it seems a bit of a lost cause.
How do you draw a line between the thugs and other families without raising prices even further?!
by Babak on 07 September 2011 at 01:11 PM

The whole "tickets too expensive" chestnut really gets my goat. I tweeted you last night Luke, mentioning "No Surrender" being sung at Solihull Moors v Hinckley, where it only cost £10 to get in, so people saying anger is because of ticket prices is complete and utter nonsense. As you say, it's downright thuggery, propagated by The Football Factory/Green Street/Deadliest Men trash. And, this "we invented the game" brigade serve these people with a seriously misguided sense of entitlement. When that sense isn't realised, people think it gives them a divine right to smash things up.
by Neil Park on 07 September 2011 at 01:12 PM

Point well made.
Makes me think of how unrelated the riots really were to anything at one point. people were going out just to riot, not to make a point. When you see fans go to matches just to be thugs and scream abuse that is actually completely out of context, you definitely wonder why they're paying that money.
by Rusty on 07 September 2011 at 01:16 PM

Cracking article. This type of carry on, along with the ridiculous distance between the national stadium and the place I call home, is the reason I've more or less given up on England. Granted the things you mention in your article aren't in any way just restricted to international football but they seem to pervade England matches more than they do club football.

If you want to look at one recurring event which tells you all you need to know about the crowd at Wembley nowadays then just look at the booing of the national anthems. No matter who it is we're playing the crowd create the most noise you're likely to hear that evening when Land of our Fathers/La Marseillaise/Mer Hayrenik gets an airing. Pathetic or what?
by Dirty Bristow on 07 September 2011 at 01:30 PM

Really good article, it's this sort of behaviour that non footballing friends associate you with because they don't know any different. I go to home games with my family which is great and it is rare where we sit you see or hear much violence or abuse. However away games are completely different. Far too many away's I have been staggered by the amount of people that have paid the dear amount for a match ticket, but instead their main objective of the trip is ti get pissed on the train, find a pub get even more drunk, shout abuse at opposition fans and wander into the ground late for kick off. Being late for kick off doesn't bother them, because it's not the football their after. Instead it's an opportunity to hurl abuse swear and even be racist in what they believe to be a justified manner.

It's wherever you go, on Saturday my Uncle, who does the 92 league grounds, took me to a ground that was new to the football league this season (which I imagine narrows it down). Only 10 minutes gone before some mindless idiot shouted racist abuse at the top of his voice at a black ex player of theirs now playing for the opposition, and instead of someone reporting it or the stewards acting the people around him just laughed. It makes you wonder that despite all these campaigns and young children attending with parents, how much of it goes on unheard of?
by Ramblebaggie on 07 September 2011 at 01:32 PM

I lived in England many years ago and I had a great time.....except for you're food...sorry....and I really enjoyed the experience. However, I really hope England don't qualify for the championships here in Poland as I don't want any more of your lager louts coming to my country. They already inflict their bullshit on Krakow every weekend and if our Polish hooligans meet the English hooligans it will not be a pretty sight.
by pawel on 07 September 2011 at 01:32 PM

Good article. I suspect that you can't figure out why they are so angry is because there is simply no rational reason for it. They are just idiots.

Can we also ban that bl**dy band as well. They make me angry
by Paul on 07 September 2011 at 01:37 PM

Good piece Lukey moore..i think the conclusion to be drawn from this is that English people/fans are in general idiots..and that will never change unless something is biologically changed in our gene doubt the people jumping up and down in the train were also testing out the comfort in their newly acquired trainers taken from one of the ravged outlets during the london is a great place to take your kids, so long as you are ready to expect the worst side of the queens english..i can vividly remember years ago, being at an Arsenal Southampton B team game, and a lady in her 60's jumping out of her chair, berating one of the Saints players calling him an f-in C!! She should of been at home knitting a wooly hat for someone or making jam! not in this country.
by Skins on 07 September 2011 at 01:38 PM

re babak - I would counter that I struggle to understand the racism that England players got when we played in Spain in a friendly a few years ago!
by bobby on 07 September 2011 at 01:40 PM

Couldn't agree more, the whole experience of going to Wembley (old and new) has always been a pain in the arse logistically. But when you add into the equation being subjected to thuggish behaviour, and intimidating aggressiveness so common at England games, it's no wonder we struggle to sell out.
Remember the last time I went to see England was the friendly against Hungary last august. Crap game, crap atmosphere, and loads of loutish yobs causing trouble and abusing fellow England fans (usually non-white ones I might add) more even than Hungary.... though that might have been attributable to a distant ignorance of anything about Hungary in fairness.
by William McCready on 07 September 2011 at 01:44 PM

Spot on.

"Embarrassed by proxy" is exactly how I feel when I see fans at my club (Gloucester City) calling the ref a c**t in front of a group of children then accusing the stewards of victimisation when they are challenged.
by Jenni on 07 September 2011 at 01:44 PM

Its a strange phenomenon, I talked to my Grandpa about it once and he said people of his generation fought in/lived through a war so everything else be it home life or sport etc. was blessed relief.

The elements at the England games, shouting songs about WW2 and the IRA would seem to quite like there to be another war tomorrow so they could go and spew all their hatred at another countries people instead of kicking back and enjoying the freedom they have with a couple of beers at a match.

Don't know if it is just England where this happens - transport that stadium to anywhere else in the world and it would be rocking with 80,000 CELEBRATING.....hey ho.
by Andy Lane on 07 September 2011 at 01:47 PM

Agree with this Luke, my one experience of England (v Northern Ireland at Old Trafford) was pretty unpleasant. Pretty much as you describe it really. Anger, abuse, casual jingoism... I go home and away with my club and I've genuinely never had such an uncomfortable time at a football match as I did at that England game.

The Northern Ireland fans, on the other hand, seemed to be having a great time, even as they cruised to a 4-0 defeat.

Like you, I'm not sure what the answer is either.
by Alex on 07 September 2011 at 01:49 PM

Great article. It's not an exclusive reserve of England at Wembley.

I am a proud Scot, and while I would accept that there some are elements of what you say go on at Scotland games, The Tartan Army's repuation is well deserved; they are generally a well mannered bunch with a very effective self-policing policy.

However, I'm afraid that I can relate to much of what you say through experiences at the club game in Scotland. Too many similarities. Too much anger. And, unfortunately, too much acceptance from too many people.
by ECChallenge on 07 September 2011 at 01:50 PM

I agree with most of it. I see how people act at matches and sometimes its ridiculous.

The German bombers song gets sang by all (or nearly all) England fans when away from home. That is the core of the support so if you don't like listening to that, then don't attend matches. Like you say about ticket prices, you know what to expect before you purchase the ticket.

On the racism/xenophobia - you never gave a single example. Telling someone to f off back to their own country isn't either of those things. People are not happy with how England are playing and are blaming the manager. Telling him to f off back to the country he was born in is not the same as saying "you don't have the ability to manage our team because you weren't born here." People supported Sven for a long time.

People need to start acting with a much smarter head at football matches, definitely, but to me it sounds like you can't hack going to the match. It is what it is. Don't like it? Don't go.
by Michael on 07 September 2011 at 02:03 PM

Loved your comment on the "fans". Hear the same thing with the Barra Bravas in Argentina.
by Bill on 07 September 2011 at 02:04 PM


"Don't like it? Don't go"

I'm sorry, but I can't agree with that. Behaviour that is singularly unacceptable in every other public element of our society should not be tolerated. By not going, you're accepting that this is acceptable. We, collectively. need to all do our bit to rid football in general from these vile and intimidatory aspects of our soceity.

If I were to accept it and not go, what message is that giving to the next generation? What do I tell my son when he desperately (frequently) wants to go to live football??

By facing up to the issue and debating it - by getting people to accept that it is unacceptable - puts it on the agenda and makes it difficult to ignore.

Again: well done Luke Moore
by ECChallenge on 07 September 2011 at 02:15 PM

This article should be headed:

Racism, booze, violence… Welcome to Football.

by Alex on 07 September 2011 at 02:15 PM

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