‘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.