As much as the Euro 2020 was a success, it highlighted a worrying trend that has infiltrated the game and in particular the English game, racism and hooliganism. The joy of Gareth Southgate’s team’s achievements on the field was eclipsed by the toxic swell of racism and the unsavoury jingoism which harks back to the ’70s and is accompanied by violence and conflict.
The three players who were subjected to racial abuse on social media for failing to convert penalties are now returning to their clubs and families to receive support, but the fact is that many talented footballers are closing their SM accounts rather than be subjected to abuse because they didn’t meet the fans’ expectations.
How sad is it that players of such potential who have broken through the ranks to reinvigorate the national side should be targets for a group of mindless and ignorant thugs? It’s a sad testament to the game in general, but something that has never been far from the surface of the country’s favourite sport.
I was engaged in a discussion on social media regarding the behaviour of the English fans which I had condemned only to be informed that ‘your fans always spoil it for everyone’, a statement that in itself is stereotypical, ignorant and naive.
The fact is that this problem has never truly gone away and has been, to some degree, overlooked to accommodate lucrative competitions at home and abroad around the globe but make no mistake, this pandemic of hatred has been allowed to grow and infiltrate the game for years.
Far from being an English disease, its poisonous tentacles have been given the freedom to exercise its unpalatable practices without fear of meaningful retribution to such an extent where the players and the public are both victims. Holland, Germany, Russia, Denmark and Turkey all have the same problems and it appears that it’s getting worse.
Racism hasn’t really changed in the form it takes, although players, who have gone with the trends of social media as a way to communicate and engage with fans, are now freely available for abuse, hooliganism, which is once again on the rise, appears to have morphed into something entirely different.
My heart hurts for Bukayo @BukayoSaka87. What an incredible brave and fearless young man he is. I couldn't be more proud of him and we are so lucky that he is ours @Arsenal . To all the racists abusers out there, try serving the nation at the age of 19 #afcb #sakayoudidgreat pic.twitter.com/NEBHfXO4NT
— Arsenal Fans Network (@Real_Arsedevils) July 13, 2021
Rid yourself of the image of drunken louts who will use a football match as an excuse to fight with opposition fans outside or inside a stadium, the problem is far more sophisticated, if the word can be applied to such activities. These are not hoards of frustrated individuals convening on a town, it’s now meticulously planned by a network of high achieving and sometimes, financially sound supporters.
DW.com posted an article back in 2019 which highlighted the rise of hooliganism but which also tried to shed light on the preconceived ideas about those involved:
“Hooligans were once associated with spontaneous bursts of violence in cities where their club or national team was playing, often under the influence of excessive alcohol or illicit drugs. However, this is far from being true of modern-day hooligans, many of whom have a healthy lifestyle, avoid alcohol consumption and train in martial arts, specifically, the full-contact martial arts genre known as mixed martial arts (MMA).”
“While the ultras, the dominant supporter subculture in Europe’s stadiums over the past 20 years, are known to be of different political affiliations, large parts of the hooligan scene are on the political right. Eastern Europe is known to be the home for some of the most notorious hooligans groups.”
In terms of racism, Robert Liew of the Guardian wrote an excellent piece that dispelled the myth that it had ever gone away. It had simply been suppressed, waiting for the ideal opportunity and time to show its ugly face. Liew summed up the static nature of the situation by writing:
“Four decades ago, before his England debut, Cyrille Regis (1977) was sent a bullet in the post by a racist fan. In 2008, shortly after being appointed as Chelsea’s manager, Avram Grant was deluged with dozens of antisemitic emails.
These days, as footballers continue to be subjected to racist abuse on Twitter and Instagram, the temptation is to wonder whether anything has changed except the method of delivery.”
“The recent wave of social media abuse – directed primarily at prominent black footballers – follows a well-worn pattern. The incidents begin to cluster with a grisly momentum – Marcus Rashford and Axel Tuanzebe on two separate occasions, Anthony Martial, Reece James, Romaine Sawyers, Alex Jankewitz and Lauren James. Statements are issued.
Governing bodies, broadcasters and public figures clamber over each other to offer their condemnation, often by way of a fancy social media graphic. And then, like any wave, the anger subsides. The news cycle gets bored. Racism carries on, and so does everyone else. Until the next wave, at least.”
So here we go again, a global condemnation that will gradually take the form of another redundant and meaningless campaign without offering any solutions or suitable punishments. Ex-Manchester United striker Romelu Lukaku, who himself was subject to racial abuse said “we are going backwards” on the issue of racism.
We're proud of you @BukayoSaka87
⚽ for your spark, energy and drive on the pitch
💪🏾 for your character, leadership and determination
❤️ for being an inspiration
We will always stand with you pic.twitter.com/R27y7USOaT
— Islington Council (@IslingtonBC) July 15, 2021
In fact, the FA, FIFA and UEFA have all sat idly by offering up nothing more than a series of groups and campaigns to end racism, but which have no power to act against those that continue to ignore basic human decency.
As I’ve said many times, campaigns like ‘Kick it out’, taking the knee and Respect have not had the desired effect. It’s time to be bolder, braver and produce measures that act as a genuine deterrent. Perhaps, it’s time for penalties and imprisonments to stamp out this menace and threat to our individual liberties.