In befitting England fashion, another penalty shootout defeat at Wembley - this time in the European Championship final to Italy after a 1-1 draw – continued fifty-five years of hurt. While the nation was once again gripped with weeks of footballing euphoria and the usual disappointment, the popular chant of “It’s Coming Home” epitomising this, the fine line between enthusiasm and anger, victory and defeat, reared its ugly head once more.
While the positives of Euro 2020 certainly outweigh the negatives, the unsavoury scenes in London and disgraceful racist abuse on social media should not be downplayed. While it is true that a minority of England fans acted irresponsibly, labelling them as ‘not being fans’ only distances ourselves from the reality of the problem. This is not the first instance of hooliganism or racist abuse that has existed, and unfortunately it will not be the last. The minority keep letting the majority down, but the reality is that what also came home for England was an increase in violence, racism and domestic abuse. Domestic abuse has somewhat been overlooked; a 2013 Lancaster University study found the risk of domestic abuse rose by 26 percent when England won or drew, 38 percent when they lost.
"The power of social media as a force for good has allowed hate and abuse to be highlighted and called out, with an outpouring of support and love for those affected."
When Arsenal’s nineteen-year-old prodigy Bukayo Saka saw his decisive penalty saved by Italian goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma, it was to the surprise of few that racist abuse would quickly manifest across social media platforms. Saka and fellow teammates Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho were the main victims. Social media platforms have been under intense scrutiny since, while petitions have called for racist fans to be banned for life and social media identification. Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, threatened to enforce fines of ten percent of global revenues on social media companies if they failed to remove racist abuse. The power of social media as a force for good has allowed hate and abuse to be highlighted and called out, with an outpouring of support and love for those affected.
Racism is not the only prevalent issue however. It was expected that thousands of fans would be consuming alcohol and creating huge amounts of mess, but it quickly got out of hand. Firstly, ticketless fans forced themselves past security into the ground, occupying bought seats and intimidating disabled fans and the families of players. They fought with police and security inside and outside the stadium, some even fighting each other and Italian fans. For all of the good that had prevailed throughout the tournament, the occasion was too much for some to handle, the unpleasant reaction of some a stark reminder of how quickly things can change.
The behaviour has been denounced by the government, MET Police and Football Association, with the FA announcing an independent review to be initiated to investigate the security breaches at Wembley. Images circulated almost immediately on Sunday 11th June showing the unpleasant scenes, while people the following week shared their experiences, one ticketless fan claiming that they paid off a steward to let them into the ground. Police have since made multiple arrests and released images of ten individuals who are believed to be connected to the violence and disorder. UEFA has given the FA four charges in relation to the national anthem disturbances, fireworks, a fan invasion on the pitch and the throwing objects, as well as opening their own investigation into the security issues. This comes after the FA was fined £26,600 for a trio of offences in relation to England’s 2-1 semi-final victory over Denmark.
Recent discussion has raised fears that England’s joint UK 2030 World Cup bid will be undermined , amidst rumours that Spain and Portugal’s bid is now the favourite. The recent scenes no doubt tarnishes England’s reputation, but it is far fetched to believe this will topple their bid considering the corruption of FIFA and the fact that the previous World Cup was held in Russia, the 2022 World Cup is in Qatar and Saudi Arabia is considering a bid for 2030.
Still, while every country has their own societal problems, here in England sport has the unique quality of unifying people, yet also bringing out the underlying issues still holding back the country. Hopefully, the overwhelming support for the England team will allow for necessary reflection and action to take place. England are certainly heading in the right direction on the football pitch across all levels of the men and women’s game, so let us hope off the pitch that can also be the case.
Disclaimer: All views expressed in this piece belong solely to the author and do not reflect the views of Demographica Limited as a company.