MIKE KEEGAN: The bile heard from England fans at Riverside Stadium is nothing new…the FA must tackle this deep-seated cancer
- England fans have once again booed their own players before the game in Romania
- Dissenting supporters believe the gesture has political connotations
- There is a long history of English supporters misrepresenting themselves
Seville, October 14, 2018. Tomorrow, a young England squad inspired by goals from Raheem Sterling and Marcus Rashford will deliver a groundbreaking feat to defeat one of the best teams in the world on home soil.
For now it is Sunday evening and the air is warm. Families, like the culture, head out for an evening stroll through the squares and past the churches and there is the soft hum of children playing and adults chatting. A group of journalists covering the game will comment on how serene it all is.
Then they go around a corner and it’s another scene. Dozens of drunk, shirtless youths launch plastic chairs and bottles at the police. These are the same idiots who will spend the next afternoon drinking and singing hateful songs.
Friday 11 June
Saturday June 12
Sunday 13 June
English fans clash with German supporters in Stuttgart during the 2006 World Cup
The Pope will be targeted, while ‘F*** the IRA’ and ‘No Surrender’ will be scolded by many who were not even alive at the time of the Troubles, let alone Henry VIII. Then World War II will be swept away by those who played no part in it. ‘Ten German Bombers’, followed by aggressive renditions of ‘England till I die’.
When England plays abroad, it’s easy to blame the miserable scenes on the work of day-trippers who aren’t exactly England fans, but just lazy in the mood for a trip abroad.
But when loud cheers greet the players on their knees, when the national anthem ‘No Surrender’ has been inserted twice in two pre-Euro matches at Middlesbrough intended to give the Three Lions an exciting farewell, that division cannot be made. made.
Because these weren’t day trippers in the mood for an afternoon of pints on tropical Teesside. These were members of the England Supporters Club, an organization set up by the FA.
England fans booed as their players got on their knees for the friendly against Romania
They were the only ones to get tickets to the Riverside and it was they who chose to ignore Gareth Southgate’s pleas; who disrespected Captain Rashford and his teammates; who saw 11 people, they were there to take a stand against racism and thought it appropriate to scold them.
This is the heart of England’s fan base, who will be back in greater numbers to put us all to shame when the tournament starts – although club members are reportedly limited to around 3,000 tickets to Wembley matches.
It came as no surprise to many who have tried to follow England, only to become part of an army of one-and-dones. They go once, hear the bile and promise not to return. Instead, they support from home, knowing they won’t be confronted with the nonsense surrounding every England game.
This reporter is one of that army. As a lifelong England fan who cried when Diego Maradona hit the ball on my eighth birthday, I went as a fan to a game in England – a slack 0-0 draw with Macedonia at Old Trafford during Steve McClaren’s 2006 reign – and haven’t been back since.
My distant Irish roots are not something I often think about. But here my ancestors were loudly portrayed as the enemy and I felt like an outcast in the city where I worked and went to school. This is not a new problem.
Many English fans responded by applauding when players were booed for taking a knee knie
This isn’t every England matchgoing fan either. Some took it. Some responded with applause on Sunday. On Sunday, the Football Supporters’ Association asked where those who chanted “You racist b******s, you know what you are” had gone when England’s black players were assaulted in Sofia in October 2019. They stay, but they are drowned out.
We asked the FA what they were going to do to prevent further booing and, indeed, if they could do anything given the free speech issue.
They declined to comment, but outlined engagement with fans on how to report anti-social or discriminatory behavior and ways to make the Supporters Club more welcoming.
They also reiterated their own – and Southgate’s – stance on taking the knee and several campaigns they have supported.
But what many see as a decades-long failure to tackle the problem could surface again and again on the Euros in the coming weeks.