Hooliganism’s like Covid: Having the disease once doesn’t make us immune

WHAT an awful bunch some of those Hungarian supporters were, with their shameless violence and racism.

Several friends of mine were at the England match, all with young children who were afforded fine views of the sights and sounds of vileness as that lot besmirched their country’s name, and the name of football itself.

The problem with hooliganism is that it can feed off itself. While there will be many Hungarian fans appalled at what they saw on Tuesday, others will be thinking: “Oh great, I’ll have a bit of that.”

They might make an effort next time, getting into their black T-shirt uniforms, buying a ticket and going along to bash a few heads in. Also, there will be fans of Hungary’s opponents who fancy a bit of a tear-up too, and they might make more of an effort to get themselves along when the Hungarians are next in town.

Who knows, some of Tuesday’s loonies might even have been encouraged to get themselves to Wembley by the disgraceful behaviour of thousands of our fans at the Euro final.

Many England fans who were there in July have told me of their horror. One Spurs fan, who has been home and away, here and abroad with his club for a good 40 years, told me he would never go to another England game.

He has seen plenty of bad stuff on his travels, and is no shrinking violet himself, but the time he spent on Wembley Way that day was the end of the road for him when it comes to following England.

Again though, just as he is not going any more, I am sure there are other England fans who will be attracted to the games all the more. And so it grows.

'Hilariously disgusting'

I am still shocked how little outrage there was at the behaviour of thousands of our fans that day. And if we had won, I am quite sure there would have been even less attention paid to it.

If we are honest, all any of us not there that day can remember is that some fans forced their way in, and one chap jammed a lit flare up his back passage.

As that particular memory comes to mind, we can’t help an inward smile. It was disgustingly hilarious or hilariously disgusting, but it is another sign that we seem unable to engage with our new hooliganism issue.

This may be because it is never easy to go back to a big problem that you thought you had solved. Hooliganism was known, possibly unfairly, as the English disease, but we definitely had a very bad case of it for a long time.

Eventually, through the collective efforts of all interested parties — the game’s administrators, the police, the clubs and their fans — we all but cured ourselves.

Or perhaps the disease just ran its course and the whole idea of football hooliganism simply fell out of fashion. Now it feels like, having been there and done that, it is too big a deal for us to admit it is back.

At every game I go to there seems to be some kind of incident, be it a bit of punch-up or a bigger brawl.

Not a month goes by nowadays, it seems, without some nasty incident — just look at the pictures of last month’s fight between Leicester and Napoli fans in the King Power stadium.

In August it was Cardiff City and Millwall hitting ten bells out of each other at Cardiff City Stadium.

Having this disease before, it turns out, does not give us immunity from it — just like with Covid.

There are other similarities with the pandemic: We know we are in a better place with it now, having struggled terribly for a good long time. But there are still tens of thousands of Covid cases — albeit less serious — NHS staff are scared stiff and the future is uncertain.

Like hooliganism, we would have a hell of a job admitting to ourselves it had come back in force if, God forbid, it does.

It feels as if, just like hooliganism fell out of fashion, reporting on it did too. At every game I go to there seems to be some kind of incident, be it a bit of punch-up or a bigger brawl.

Tanked up

If I did not see it myself, I will read about it on Twitter, often with accompanying video evidence. But that is as far as it goes.

No great outcry or moral outrage. No fuss. Yes, I know it was hooliganism, but hooliganism has died out, so let’s not bang on about it in case anyone gets upset.

Something has been changing, for the worse, for a good while now. The first time I noticed it was at Leicester City a good six years ago.

The noise in the concourse beneath the West Brom away end as we came through the turnstiles was deafening. Our rascals were not really misbehaving but, my God, they were steaming. I asked one of the coppers how they had managed to get so tanked up.

Because hooliganism, just like the virus, is either growing or shrinking — there is no in between.

“It’s not booze, it’s coke,” he said. “They can get wired on it much cheaper and quicker than they can on lager. And there’s not a lot we can do about it.”

Things feel like they have got a good deal worse since then, and we need to engage with it. Because hooliganism, just like the virus, is either growing or shrinking — there is no in between.

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