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ROBERT HARDMAN on the football yobs who tarnished this tournament

The greater the gain, the greater the pain. It is the fact that England came within just a couple of penalty kicks of winning our first final in more than half a century that makes it so much harder to bear.

If it had transpired that Gareth Southgate’s team had been sneaking out for illicit drinks with the WAGs or running a late-night card table, we might find this easier. If they had crashed out miserably in the group stages, we would have soon been over it.

But the post-mortems barely touched on the players yesterday. They have been a credit to the country and they came within a whisker. On the night, it was not to be.

There was some noise about Gareth Southgate’s choice of penalty-takers. There was some horrible racist stuff — since deleted — from a malignant few on social media. (The sooner the custodians of cyberspace lift the cloak of anonymity around it, the sooner those creatures will crawl back under their rock.)

The people to whom we should now be directing the awkward questions are not the squad. They are the sizeable number of England fans, along with the authorities who did such a poor job of controlling them.

The people to whom we should now be directing the awkward questions are not the squad. They are the sizeable number of England fans, along with the authorities who did such a poor job of controlling them

For these yobs have not only marred this tournament: they may have done serious damage to our chances of staging the World Cup nine years from now.

Carnage

It’s all very well standing outside Wembley necking your tenth can of lager, jeering at anything which looks vaguely Italian and shrieking: ‘Football’s coming home!’

Not if you’ve got anything to do with it, matey. It’s people like you who will ensure that football has no intention of coming home. It might very well decide to pack its bags and catch the next flight to Anywhere But England.

Certainly, the delegates from the European footballing authority, UEFA, and the global body, FIFA, cannot have been impressed by what they saw on Sunday.

are the key people who will decide on where the 2030 World Cup goes, following on from the 2026 tournament in the U.S., Canada and Mexico.

What will be FIFA’s take-home memories of London as a sporting city?

It is safe to say that the delagates did not arrive at the game by Tube, so they missed the hordes of inebriates already falling over by mid-afternoon.

They will have missed the broken bottles all along Olympic Way, where I had to dodge my first display of synchronised vomiting at 3.50pm.

Yet they will doubtless have seen the chaotic scenes at the stadium as gangs of gatecrashers smashed their way inside.

After the game, the same VIPs will have sat immobile in their limousines in the gridlocked streets for hours watching the carnage unfolding around them. I just hope they didn’t abandon their cars and try to catch a train.

Broken Santander cycles lie amongst litter and broken glass strewn on the ground in Trafalgar Square, London

Broken Santander cycles lie amongst litter and broken glass strewn on the ground in Trafalgar Square, London

Late on Sunday, I walked through streets carpeted with beer cans, smashed glass and pools of Lord-knows-what to get the last train back to London from Wembley Central.

Christmas had come early for coronavirus. Here was a fetid, airless, confined space rammed with maskless, hoarse, coughing young men, all singing at the tops of their voices.

I sat opposite a man brazenly smoking a fat joint. On one side of me sat another fan inhaling ‘hippy crack’ from a helium canister. On the other, a fan necked a vodka bottle with a blue liquid inside.

With not a cop, guard or steward to be seen anywhere.

I suppose I could draw one positive from this scene. There was no racial abuse, beyond some yelling at an Italian fan. He turned out to be an equally gobby Londoner who responded in kind.

This was a wholly diverse mix of black, white and Asian idiots. The days of England yobbery being the exclusive preserve of the shaven-headed far-Right are over.

England fans clash with police in Piccadilly Circus in London after Italy won the Euro 2020 final

England fans clash with police in Piccadilly Circus in London after Italy won the Euro 2020 final

Gatecrashers

And at least I had a seat. Many people had to stand for the slow, stop-start journey back to Central London where the London Underground had shut and buses were almost non-existent. Cabs and minicabs were nowhere to be seen.

I walked for miles until I finally flagged a cab down at 2am. The cabbie told me he wasn’t stopping for any fans as they would either throw up, not pay or kick the bodywork when they were refused a ride.

All night, the news websites showed riot police clearing Trafalgar Square, sporadic Wembley punch-ups and a man in Leicester Square proudly clenching a billowing smoke flare between his buttocks.

And football’s coming home …

So how did it come to this? One major factor, which will hopefully not be an issue in 2030, is Covid. Because of the pandemic, Wembley had very publicly stated that it would have at least 20,000 empty seats. Some of those who had read reports of fans breaking in to Wednesday’s semi-final will have felt it was worth a go.

There was also a requirement for all fans with tickets to present a vaccination certificate on their phones. However, the local phone signals were dire and large numbers were unable to pull up the relevant page.

At every entry point, there were clogged arteries as fans frantically tried to make their phones work. Some stewards ended up waving them through regardless. It created precisely the chaos the gatecrashers had wanted and they pounced.

People place messages of support on top of bin liners that were taped over offensive wording on the mural of Manchester United striker and England player Marcus Rashford in Manchester

People place messages of support on top of bin liners that were taped over offensive wording on the mural of Manchester United striker and England player Marcus Rashford in Manchester

The stewards were not, for the most part, the heavy-duty ilk. They were there to check Covid certificates. Many were young women who could not possibly be expected to rugby tackle 15st of Stella-fuelled rhino-fan charging for the gates. So they stood back.

Where were the police? I saw a few come late in the day, but the strategy seems to have been to appease rather than to antagonise.

Once inside the ground, I found it extraordinary that I could not buy a cup of tea. Every few yards, there were bars and kiosks flogging the official beer. You could buy it by the jug. Tea or coffee? No chance.

Outside the stadium, the Euro 2020 organisers had decided not to admit the usual fleets of fast food vans which routinely fill the surrounding area for big games. Nor were there the usual UEFA ‘fan zones’ to absorb the crowds.

Thousands of ticketless fans had turned up with bags of booze simply to be part of the occasion. They ended up drinking on an empty stomach.

Spoiled

Some places were properly organised. The Boxpark sports bar would admit only those with a ticket to the match and all had to sit at their own tables. That they all behaved impeccably may not be unconnected to the fact that the security is run by Julius Francis, the ex-heavyweight boxer who fought Mike Tyson back in the day.

In the streets outside, though, there was precious little sign of authority. And it showed.

These scenes have tarnished what has been a great tournament. But will they have spoiled our chances as World Cup hosts, too?

Some experts suggest not. Baroness Hoey was Tony Blair’s sports minister in 2000, the last time England bid for a World Cup. She tells me that other factors will swing it.

‘I’m sad to say that the most important factors are money and politics,’ she says. ‘Other countries will try to use these scenes to spoil our bid, but FIFA will be looking at financial advantages and who else is on our side.’

She adds that there is another consideration: ‘There will now be people in this country who say: “Why on earth do we want this thing anyway?”’

Sadly, they may well have a point.


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