PARIS, France — Those who hoped football hooliganism was dead, a relic of a long forgotten football era, were given a despairing dose of reality by the disgraceful scenes in Marseille over the past four days.
Despite obvious improvements since the ‘bad old days’ of the 1980s, hooliganism has of course never been truly extinguished. It has existed, only more often on the periphery, with social media still ensuring plenty of cases are documented. Who can forget the shocking video of Chelsea fans destroying a Munich restaurant and assaulting its owner ahead of the 2012 Champions League final?
It came to the fore again during qualifying for this European Championship when Albania were awarded a win and three points after Serbian fans attacked their players, forcing the postponement of a match in Belgrade.
That was just a sign of things to come. Hooliganism is well and truly alive and it came crashing onto the centre stage of a major tournament in Marseille, both before and then after the Group B contest between England and Russia.
Bill Shankly once said that “some people believe football is a matter of life and death… I can assure you it is much, much more important than that.”
The legendary Liverpool manager was brilliantly articulating the power the sport has to unite and its ability to bring unquantifiable happiness to the people who follow it.
Dismally, the English and Russian thugs in Marseille took the words at face value, one Three Lions fan reportedly close to death at the time of writing after suffering a cardiac arrest in the violent build-up to the match at the Stade Velodrome.
The England fan who suffered cardiac arrest is 51. His heart stopped and had to be restarted at the scene. Remains in a critical condition.— Sam Cunningham (@samcunningham) June 11, 2016
Infuriatingly, these idiots have forgotten that football is a sport, a spectacle to be enjoyed. People go to matches to be wowed, not wounded. They spoil the game we love and must stop the madness.
The fears of a potential terrorist attack at the tournament have been very real, with an obviously increased police presence, and many layers of security at each host stadium. What a deep shame it is that a new threat to peace has come not from extremists but from this extremely moronic minority.
‘Shame’ was the word that adorned L’Equipe’s front cover on Sunday and other newspapers followed suit, Le Parisien opting for ‘La France face aux hooligans’ (‘France against hooligans’). The fantastic story of Gareth Bale’s Wales securing their first win at a major final since 1958 was denied its deserved spot by the unpleasant incidents in Marseille.
The talk radio stations, too, were focused only on events on the south coast. On France Info, between the calming Sunday morning jazz, there was concerted criticism of the so-called supporters and also some finger pointing at the English press and authorities. Some had suggested after Friday night’s first scuffles that the French police were a little heavy handed in their approach, an accusation that has of course incensed those on the other side of the channel.
Police numbers will of course now be increased, notably in Lens and Lille where England and Russia play their respective second matches. The French government has also announced a ban on alcohol near Euro 2016 venues. But alcohol bans, along with water cannons and tear gas, are only a temporary solution. Hooligans will still get drunk and still cause trouble. They always find a way.
The issuing of an ‘official warning’ by UEFA’s Executive Committee, in which the violence was labelled “challenging circumstances” felt like a proverbial slap on the wrists.
UEFA did however promise that “it will not hesitate to impose additional sanctions…including potential disqualification”. The threat of stadium bans, points deductions and even tournament expulsions have proven to be effective punishments in the past but it remains to be seen if UEFA’s words will be taken seriously.
The organisation has not always proven itself the most pro-active enforcer, meaning it is difficult to know if its latest words will act as a genuine deterrent at this European Championship. They have to follow through this time, though. There should be no second chances.
It is of course unfair that the players and those fans who behave themselves – those that make up the majority – must suffer for the actions of a small number. But for their safety and the safety of those in the cities and towns that have experienced violence, it seems like the best option.
Those penalties will not be the silver bullet that destroys hooliganism, but right now it appears to be the best option there is.