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Friday, June 15, 2012

England fans make right impression at Euro 2012

England fans make right impression at Euro 2012
England supporters have been on best behavious in Poland & Ukraine

Let’s hope we're not speaking to early, with England playing this evening. Passions are heightened, emotions extreme. All that stuff.

But at this stage, it is entirely reasonable to feel a little proud of how the England fans are faring at Euro 2012. It does, of course, say something about the depths of depravity of the past that because England fans are not ripping European towns to pieces or engaging in semi-military operations against foreign police forces, we can reflect on this and report it as good news.

“England fans do not destroy city” is a strange good news headline.

I wonder, though, about the effect that the Russians, the Poles and anyone else who currently appears prepared to wind back to the horror years is having upon the England fans. I say that particularly with particular reference to 1992, my first ever European Championships and my first taste of England hooliganism.

At those Euros, held in Sweden, I saw England fans tear the coastal city of Malmo to shreds. I recall poignantly walking though the city centre to the station the next morning and seeing the faces of the cityfolk – disgust mixed with bemusement – as they started to rebuild. It was as if a natural disaster had swept through town. Except it wasn’t natural.

And when my train arrived in a smaller town, Norrkoping, where Scotland were playing two matches, the extremes were heavenly. Scotland fans actually went out of their way to be the opposite to England. They took pride in making that clear. They loved being popular, fun, happy, the toast of the town, a good news story that had swept through an otherwise quiet Swedish city. They wanted to leave happy memories behind, not a trail of destruction. England had inspired them to be the anti-England. When you have images of unacceptable behaviour shoved unavoidably under your nose, the way everyone did in Sweden that year, then you are either part of it or you are not, and if you are not, then human instinct is to go to the other extreme.

It has taken a long time for England fans to cotton on. And I know this is a generalisation. I know the idiots and the ignorant were always a minority. But if you were in Charleroi, as I was for Euro 2000, you would know that that minority was nevertheless a fairly huge and terrifying army. The destruction of Charleroi was chilling in that it was predictable, savage and so very hard to contain.

But just look at the England fans now. British police officers who have been travelling with the England fans have expressed their concern not with the fans, but with the fact that yobs from other nations might be wearing England kit and looking to cause trouble under a different flag. They are looking to protect the image of the England fan, because, in a decade and a half, it seems to have come such a long way.

I wonder, then, about the psychology of it all. What do those England fans think of the horrific pictures that have made news everywhere – of the Russians and Poles in street battles. And what do they make of the stories of Russian and Ukrainian fans and the monkey chants directed at black players.

Will they not be like the Scots in 1992? When confronted with images as unacceptable as that, will they not be appalled? Will human instinct not kick in? Might they not be inspired to go to the other extreme? To be known as the good fans?

England fans know how it feels to be liked. I saw that in Japan at the 2002 World Cup. They liked being liked. They made friends and it was weird. It was like a personality disorder.

But the new personality has now set in and Euro 2012 is kind of an opportunity. Rather than be horrific, ignorant, unacceptable, be exactly the opposite.

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