Football fans
An England fan waves a smoke bomb in front of a line of police officers monitoring England supporters standing on the edge of Trafalgar Square during a live screening of the Euro 2020 football final between England and Italy, in central London on July 11, 2021. Image Credit: AFP

What a shame! Euro 2020, England’s best football moment in 55 years, has been stained by racist attacks and violence. It wasn’t a surprise, given the hooliganism in English football. Of late, English fans have behaved. But the prospect of “football coming home” seemed to have unleashed the demons among them.

It started with the storming of the Wembley gates by fans without tickets. Violence erupted, and it continued during the match. England’s loss to Italy in the final exacerbated it, and rival fans fought pitched battles outside the gates. Hooliganism reared its ugly head again.

More reprehensible was the racist abuse on social media aimed at young English players Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukaya Saka after they missed penalties in the shootout. Racism in football is not new: in recent times, Italy’s Mario Balotelli, Liverpool’s Egypt player Mohammad Salah, Manchester City’s Rahim Sterling have all been subjected to racist attacks. It merely shows that racism is still alive despite football’s efforts to stamp it out.

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England's manager Gareth Southgate consoles Bukayo Saka after the penalty shootout of the Euro 2020 football final against Italy at Wembley in London on July 11, 2021. Image Credit: AP

English football fans should grow up

Matthew Smith, Sports Editor

It is always sad and depressing to see the images and reports that came out of London before, during and after England’s defeat to Italy in the Euro 2020 final at Wembley on Sunday.

It was like a flashback to the 1980s with kicks and punches thrown at rival supporters — and between some sections of England’s so-called ‘fans’. Barriers were smashed and lobbed at police, embarrassing drunken scenes in the streets, officers attacked by the baying mob and even reports of Italian restaurants and pizzerias having their windows broken.

We witnessed a tournament that spanned 11 countries and three weeks with barely an incident and then — when England lose — mayhem. I thought we were done with all this, but the moronic minority still managed to take the headlines away from a brilliant performance from Gareth Southgate and Harry Kane’s team, getting all the way to the final of a major tournament for the first time in 55 years.

How do we eradicate it? I’m not sure. Ban alcohol? Fat chance of that in England before a match at Wembley, especially when Prime Minister Boris Johnson seems to care more about the economy.

Jail time? Not going to happen as many of them will be first-time offenders caught up in mob mentality, and the prisons are already overflowing with criminals.

Perhaps hefty fines could act as a deterrent. With London completely covered by CCTV cameras from multiple angles, it cannot be hard to round up the ring leaders and cut off the head of the snake. But what is the myth about Hydra? Chop off one head, and two take its place ...

Social reforms of some kind are needed — community service for the perpetrators and perhaps mandatory social behaviour classes, with the threat of more severe punishment for absentees?

The taxpayers are the ones picking up the tab this week as London sweeps up the debris and mop up the blood of another day of shame. All because a football match didn’t go their way. I would tell these hooligans to grow up, but I really don’t think it would make a difference.

As for the disgusting racism aimed at three brave young players that had the audacity to fail to kick a ball into a net from 12 yards — I will leave it to England skipper Kane to tell them where to go: “You’re not an England fan, and we don’t want you.”

Physical, material and mental damage — all because a football match didn’t go your way. You are very not welcome.

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Mackenzie Robertson, aged 15, and his mother Sally Coles-Roberton place a message of support on a mural of Manchester United striker and England player Marcus Rashford, on the wall of the Coffee House Cafe on Copson Street, in Withington, Manchester, England, on July 13, 2021. The mural was defaced with graffiti in the wake of England losing the Euro 2020 football final to Italy. Image Credit: AP

Be a sport, don’t be racist...

Imran Malik, Assistant Editor

It was a disgrace. No, not England’s Euro 2020 tournament — that was a massive success. Not only did they finally beat Germany in a knockout match, but also went all the way to the final. That was something they failed to do for 55 years. The last time was in 1966. You’ll have to ask your grandparents about that day where they beat West Germany 4-2.

The disgrace I’m referring to were the ugly scenes before the final at Wembley, during the match, and at full time. I’m sure we have all seen the footage circulating on social media of both sets of fans engaging in violent behaviour. Fans throwing punches at one another, kicking each other, using abusive language.

There is nothing new in what we witnessed, there have been similar scenes at other major football finals. And it would be foolish to lay the blame on only one set of fans. Yes, the English outnumbered the Italians at Wembley, which was to be expected as the final was held in London.

But we cannot form a proper opinion of what happened and how it all started from the video footage as all that it shows are groups of people fighting. How it kicked off is not clear or known or shown, so to get to the bottom of how it all began is tricky.

Passions were of course high and both the English and the Italians wanted to see their teams win. Italy had not won the European Championship since they hosted it back in 1968. And they had lost their last two final appearances, so there certainly was a lot at stake for them as there was for England.

Now, anyone who has been to a football match will know all about the banter between two sets of rival fans. They sing songs about each other and poke fun at their players and managers. It’s all a bit of fun and makes the atmosphere at stadiums that much more special. None of this comes through while watching a game on TV.

For one, the language is best described as industrial and cannot be broadcast for obvious reasons. But inside a stadium, both sets of fans know it is all good-natured fun, and nobody takes it seriously. But between two major rivals, the atmosphere is far more heated — however, the days where there were gangs at games and violent clashes have long gone. That was the 70s and 80s, but now you find families and little children making up the vast numbers in attendance.

It is much more of a family atmosphere in stadiums now with plenty of pre-match and half-time entertainment for kids to enjoy. The game has absolutely changed and is enjoyed by all in a safe environment — but the bigger issue we are all still seeing and facing in every corner of the world is racism.

It is disgusting that the trio who missed penalties for England have been subjected to racial abuse on social media. Online abuse has been happening all too frequently and all over the world. But why in the year 2021 do we still even have to deal with racism?

Humans have been around for thousands of years, yet we still resort to fighting and verbal abuse as if we were still cavemen and yet to discover fire. Sadly, I think we have been programmed from a young age by our education system, the offices we work at, our governments, the media, the entertainment industry, and as a result society as a whole to not notice the amount of prejudice and stereotyping that goes on beneath the level of awareness.

It’s unconscious, implicit bias, and it is implanted in us and thrown at our faces. Just look at Disney as an example or those old westerns; the cowboy rode a white horse. He was the good guy. The Indian had a black horse. Yep. He was the bad guy.

But, we are not born this way. Look at a 3-year-old child as an example; it won’t notice a person’s colour, ethnicity, religion or sex. It only sees a human. But by the time he/she will be 10, its head will be full of preconceived notions about groups of people.

Animals are the same. A cat or dog will love you forever if you give it a treat — no matter what colour you are. And their eyes see even more colours of the spectrum than we can. We are all brainwashed, and sadly there will be no way out of this anytime soon. An effort on the global scale is required to level up the playing field, so to speak — but it will never happen because those enjoying living at the top of the world will not want the structure of their lives to change one bit.

Countries are kept poor so their people will need to take on the kind of jobs none of us wants to do. Resentment continues to grow between the rich and poor. Out of that come many social issues. Racism is only one. The world that we have created is an utter mess and it is ridiculous that we only take real note of racism when a football match brings out disgusting reactions from fans.

Racism isn’t just in sport. It is in our way of life and it needs to be eradicated once and for all. Too much has to change for this to happen, sadly the major corporations running the world will never allow it. It can be done — but it won’t be in our lifetimes.

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An England supporter waves a flag near Trafalgar Square in London during the Euro 2020 final match between England and Italy at Wembley Stadium on July 11, 2021. Image Credit: AP

Racism is coming home

Mick O’Reilly, Foreign Correspondent

Would the ugly face of racism have reared its ugly head if Harry Kane and Harry Maguire had both missed their penalties against Italy on Sunday night? Would a mural of Kane — if there exists such a thing — be defaced or daubed with comments from Black Lives Matter?

The answer is no. There would be no hue and cry.

As it stands, the three England players who missed their penalties in the ultimate war of nerves were black. Rashford, Sancho and Saka. And it is they who have faced a vile and revolting reaction on social media platforms by English fans who wrap their lager-filled bellies in the flag of St. George and spew racist bigotry with the same ease as which they empty their bladders and blather on about their “Eng-er-land” and football’s coming home.

No, it is not.

Football is a beautiful game, one that is found in every corner of the world, where there is some to kick, something to fashion a simple goal. And it is the stuff of dreams, where the elite players on the world stage and in the best leagues are venerated as icons of our homogenous world in a game shaped by Uefa and Fifa administrators.

But these same officials have failed to take action in a serious manner — those who own and market our social media platforms are equally to blame — again racism and the abuse hurled at players over the colour of their skin.

All last season, players in the English Premier League took the knee in a stand against racism. That was in empty stadiums. But when fans returned, so too the boos. And British politicians such as the prime minister or home secretary — people who don’t know what it is like to heave and cheer and drink half-time Bovril in those football grounds — who failed to condemn those who booed. And it is they, along with the supporters who think that their racist online abuse amounts to intelligent commentary who are to blame.

For too long, England has been on a downslide into the basest levels of nationalism. Brexit itself is partly to blame, a belief too in a myth of English superiority, of Empire and ruling the waves, and a disdain for people of different colour or creed — or nationality.

During Wednesday’s semi-final when the Danes scored, I placed a Danish flag emoji on a WhatsApp group of “friends”. “You thick Irish Paddy”, came one reply. Imagine if I had missed a penalty. And I am white.

Football’s gone to Rome. Racism’s coming home.

fan violence timeline
Image Credit: Vijith Pulikkal/Gulf News

What’s hooliganism?

Hooliganism is described as any form of confrontation between rival fans. It can occur before, during or after the match at the stadium or anywhere else. It can range from spitting and taunting to throwing projectiles into the ground and armed conflict.

The confrontations can involve two or thousands of people. Sociologists say hooligans typically hail from the lower, working-class and their status increases through confrontational challenges of an equal. Some others attribute hooliganism in the modern age to the decline of the British Empire.

Football violence in the United Kingdom

Violence in football is said to date back to the Middle Ages when fights broke out during matches organised between towns and villages in England. Hooliganism has been reported in the 19th and 20th centuries, with fans attacking referees and visiting players. Some scholars believe modern hooliganism began in the 1880s, and in 1885 fans attacked players when Preston defeated Aston Villa 5-0 in a friendly match.

In The Soccer Syndrome, John Moynihan wrote of a visit to Goodison Park, Everton’s home ground, in the 1960s: “Walking behind the infamous goal, where they built a barrier to stop objects crunching into visiting goalkeepers, there was a strange feeling of hostility remaining as if the regulars had never left.”

Fan violence peaked in the seventies and the eighties. The Guardian writer Jonathan Liew quoted the academic Robert Colls, who in his book This Sporting Life, argues that English sport is inherently tied to personal liberty: the custom and ritual of public transgression, of articulating who you are in a country and society that affords you precious few opportunities to do so. “Sport confirmed that in England, you could do as you pleased,” Colls wrote.

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Police officers walk past broken bicycles and rubbish outside St. Martin-in-the-Fields church on the edge of Trafalgar Square after a live screening of the Euro2020 football final between England and Italy in central London on July 11, 2021. Image Credit: AFP

Racism in English football

Racial tension in many parts of England and the popularity of the far-right National Front are cited as reasons for the rise of racism in football in the 1970s. That was when black footballers of Caribbean descent became an increasing presence in English club football.

Black players were frequently subjected to racial abuse from rival fans. England internationals Viv Anderson in the seventies and John Barnes in the eighties suffered severe racist abuse. Recently, another England player Rahim Sterling faced racist taunts when he turned out for Manchester City.

The social media attacks on Rashford, Sancho and Saka show that the menace is still alive.

Hooliganism in other countries

Violence in football has sprung up in other countries as well. Some incidents have resulted in the deaths and injuries of fans in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (1998), Turkey (2000) and Ghana (2001).

Hooliganism has been witnessed in places as far as Brazil and Syria. In 2007, a pre-match riot in Sicily led to the death of a policeman, and the Italian league was briefly suspended.

Recently, Russia, England, and Croatia have been warned of disqualification over hooliganism. Despite the tragedies, hooliganism continues, as was evident during the Euro 2020 final between England and Italy at Wembley.

What is the psychology behind the violence?

Biju Mathew, Online Editor

“There are many theories that explain human aggressions from various psychological standpoints. But in an individual, it could be an interplay of his childhood experiences, social situations and biological factors. There could be factors in the situation that inhibit or reward the aggressive behaviour. And so the aggression can be proactive (as in planned or with a motive) or reactional,” said Dr Arun Kumar K, Specialist Psychiatrist — Aster Clinic, Bur Dubai & Aster Hospital, Ghusais, Dubai.

In a gathering of large people, it is the group psychology that dominates more than an individual personal judgement...a low threshold of tolerance could turn impulsive, and the rest of the crowd usually follow suit.

- Dr Arun Kumar K, Specialist Psychiatrist — Aster Clinic, Bur Dubai & Aster Hospital, Ghusais, Dubai.

“Conventionally, violence is understood to be often driven by negative emotions, such as anger or fear. But aggressive behaviour can be reinforced by positive feelings of power and dominance,” said the Dubai-based psychiatrist.

Mob mentality and anger

Explaining why fans turn violent when their teams are defeated in a game, Dr Kumar said: “In a gathering of large people, it is the group psychology that dominates more than an individual personal judgement. There is a lot of shared emotions, and sometimes when there is a mismatch, a set of people who have a low threshold of tolerance could turn impulsive, and the rest of the crowd usually follow suit.”

How to manage anger

“Managing anger at an individual level involves making the person aware of their emotional change and to make them have control over it. It is a combination of teaching them to be more mindful, control their emotions and restlessness through relaxation or breathing exercises and have more clarity over their judgement,” said the psychiatrist.

“A lot of psychological disorders present with increased anger and aggression. These could be mood disorders, psychotic illnesses, personality disorders or impulse control disorders. Even children with ADHD or behavioural disorders have increased aggression. These need to be evaluated or treated by a professional.”

STOP technique to manage anger
■ When you get angry, stop or momentarily pause the activity or work that you are doing.
■ Take a deep breath
■ Observe your emotions: your anger, your thoughts regarding the present moment and the consequence of your current actions
■ Proceed after making the right decision