MIKE KEEGAN: The bile of England fans is nothing new… the FA must tackle this deep-rooted cancer
- England fans once again booed their own players before the Romania game
- Dissenting supporters believe that the gesture has political connotations
- There is a long history of England supporters representing themselves poorly
Seville, October 14, 2018. Tomorrow, a young England side inspired by goals from Raheem Sterling and Marcus Rashford will deliver a breakthrough performance to beat one of the greatest teams in the world on their own soil.
For now, it is Sunday evening and the air is warm. Families, as is the culture, head out for an evening stroll over the plazas and past the churches and there is the gentle hum of playing children and adults chattering. A group of journalists there to cover the game will comment on how serene it all is.
Then they turn a corner and it is a different scene. Dozens of drunk, shirtless youths are launching plastic chairs and bottles at police. These are the same idiots who will spend the next afternoon boozing and singing spiteful songs.
England fans clash with German supporters in Stuttgart during the 2006 World Cup
The Pope will be a target, while ‘F*** the IRA’ and ‘No surrender’ will be belted out by many who were not even alive at the time of the Troubles, let alone Henry VIII. Then the Second World War will be dragged up by those who played no part in it. ‘Ten German bombers’, followed by aggressive renditions of ‘England till I die’.
When England play abroad it is easy to blame the miserable scenes as the work of day trippers who are not really England fans, just louts who fancy a trip overseas.
But when loud booing greets the players taking a knee, when the national anthem has ‘No surrender’ inserted twice over two pre-Euros games in Middlesbrough designed to give the Three Lions a rousing send-off, that apportioning cannot be made.
Because these were not day trippers who fancied an afternoon downing pints on tropical Teesside. These were members of the England Supporters Club — an organisation set up by the FA.
England fans booed as their players took the knee ahead of the friendly with Romania
They were the only ones allowed tickets for the Riverside and it was they who chose to disregard the pleas of Gareth Southgate; who disrespected captain Rashford and his team-mates; who saw 11 people they were there to support making a stand against racism and saw fit to boo them.
This is the heart of England’s fanbase, who will be back in bigger numbers to shame us all when the tournament kicks off — though club members are understood to be limited to around 3,000 tickets for Wembley matches.
It came as little 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 vow not to return. Instead they support from home, safe in the knowledge they will not be confronted by the nonsense surrounding every England game.
This reporter is one of that army. A lifelong England fan who cried when Diego Maradona punched the ball in on my eighth birthday, I went to one England match as a fan — a limp 0-0 draw with Macedonia at Old Trafford during Steve McClaren’s reign in 2006 — and have not been back since.
My very distant Irish roots are not something I often think about. Yet here, my ancestors were loudly outed as the enemy and I felt like an outcast in the city in which I worked and had gone to school. This is not a new problem.
Many England fans reacted by applauding the side when players were booed for taking a knee
This is also not every matchgoing England fan. Some put up with it. Some reacted on Sunday with applause. on Sunday, the Football Supporters’ Association asked where those who sung ‘You racist b******s, you know what you are’, when England’s black players were abused in Sofia in October 2019, had gone. They remain, but they are drowned out.
We asked the FA what they were going to do to prevent further booing and, indeed, if there was anything they could do given the issue with freedom of speech.
They declined to comment but outlined engagement with fans on how to report anti-social or discriminatory behaviour and ways to make the Supporters Club more welcoming.
They also repeated their own — and Southgate’s — position on taking the knee and various campaigns they have supported.
But what many see as a decades-long failure to tackle the problem may well be exposed time and time again at the Euros over the coming weeks.