Bob Lethaby offers his take on a tumultuous few days in Marseille that brought both shame and sympathy on England supporters.
In the space of just a few days, English football supporters have gone from being condemned as a pack of animals hell-bent on trouble, to innocent tea sipping English gents, mercilessly attacked by highly trained Russian nationalists who were brutal about their business.
I would suggest that the truth lies somewhere in between, as there were so many different factions involved (French, Russian, English and Riot Police) that confusion would have reigned across the city as some heads got deservedly kicked, whilst other supporters have probably just endured the most miserable and terrifying two days of their lives.
To totally absolve English fans would, in my opinion, be naive in the extreme, as there is still a of legacy right-wing thugs stirring up hatred and encouraging young lads (getting drunk in the sunshine for the first time) to embark on antagonistic and nationalist behaviour.
Singing songs that are anti-Eu, anti-French and anti-Muslim and claiming ‘We are England, this city is ours’ is more than just a jolly up with a few beers and was an incitement to violence on a level that England fans, used to terrifying the life out of European towns, would not have banked on. Is that what you call reaping what you sew?
From what I witnessed 10 years ago in Germany, England fans were made up of mainly decent working class blokes who wanted to have a good laugh, a booze up and a sing-song. However, on the fringes of them, lay a group of sinister older characters (in their 40’s) winding up impressionable youngs lads with songs that had geopolitical implications that they did not understand the meaning of, with Germany, the Irish and the Taliban (remember them) at centre of it.
Whilst the fun characters among England fans sing songs like “Your team is shit, but your girls are fit” to the amusement of Swedish fans, the morons come in and wreck everyone’s party with sinister nationalist songs that will be aimed at hatred towards literally any other countryThe Sun newspaper may be at odds with, with the 27 member states of the EU getting in the neck this time.
Then they wonder why they get a good shoe-ing in a tough town like Marseille that has a complex and hostile history of immigration?
We are now informed by French authorities that English fans got on the wrong end of a good battering from an almost military style attack by 150-300 Russians. It would appear that these lovely individuals go beyond throwing chairs and misjudged drunken punches, embarking on a form of hooliganism that has not been witnessed before, ruthless in attack, quick to escape.
To have been an England fan on the end of that sort of punishment must have been terrifying and I can only imagine that innocent fans who were getting battered and were looking for assistance, looked around the carnage only to see that the hooligan element who may defend them, were either too fat, useless and drunk, or swiftly on their toes; the poor sods must have wondered what on earth had brought them to Marseilles as the metal bars rained down on them.
On my only European experience at a football tournament (Germany 2006) I had a great time, probably because the group of us that went, avoided the hooligan element as, to put it in layman’s terms, they are not jolly or funny; they are the scum of the earth, abusing shopkeepers and bar owners, trying to wind up police, and then blaming everyone else when the tear gas and batons eventually arrived to control them.
We saw them on a few occasions in Nuremberg and quickly went elsewhere.
I do feel for some of the impressionable young lads, as by nature, they will have been drawn to the more raucous section of supporters who appeared to just be indulging in lively banter. However, as anyone who has travelled to European hotspots will know, the first smashed pint glass in a big English contingent, is so often the shape of things to come.
Both the hardcore of Russian and English fans are stoked up back at home by nationalist rhetoric and a fear and hatred of foreigners in the media, so if they are kicking the living daylights out each other, who cares? However, as is often the case, there will have been, without doubt, innocent fans taken by an element of surprise and mistaken identity that got really badly hurt and that is awful.
In a time when we are debating whether to take a nationalistic route to our future, the actions of Russian and England fans should be an example by proxy, of how isolation, hatred, racism and jingoism affects a nation.
In Russia, they are defending their brave men, justifying extreme organised attack as a form of defence and pride in their great country. Whether it is the state controlled media or the members of Russian Parliament, propaganda and anti-Russian paranoia rules the airwaves and the debating chambers, with those who find it abhorrent, humiliated as traitors or banished to prison.
Johnson and Farage will deny it and continue to dress in sheep’s clothing for now, claiming they are doing what is for the best for our great nation, but by following the advice of The Sunand voting to leave the EU, we are justifying the chants, abuse and terror caused by nationalists.
English hooligans who were intent on mayhem in Marseilles, have the blood of innocent England fans all over their racist chants and slogans, but they will blame the police or Russians because they are not hard men at all; they are fat useless cowards.
Read more of Bob’s writing here