Hooligans and hypocrisy
BY FERN LANE
UEFA's threat to throw England out of Euro 2000, issued after the team's victory against Germany on Saturday, was received with almost comic incredulity by the English Football Association. FA Chief Executive, David Davis, was practically incoherent with anger. He seemed incapable of grasping the fact that it was really the only option left to the European authorities as they surveyed the trail of destruction left by English supporters and faced with the prospect of them pitching up at the site of the old Heysel stadium for the quarter-finals.
As it was, the team mercifully put themselves out of the tournament, courtesy of Philip Neville for Romania's third goal but three unimpressive performances overall.
The English violence of the past week was also accompanied by that familiar brand of racism characterised by a desperate, moronic stupidity on the part of its perpetrators. The same pathologically anti-German cretins who sang `There's only one Bomber Harris' also roamed around Charleroi, as they had in Brussels, goading and attacking other fans, making Nazi salutes to anybody dimly identified as non-European whilst chanting ``I'd rather be a Paki than a Turk''.
During the press conference after the Germany game, Kevin Keegan was asked his views about the conduct of the England supporters. He was effusive about the support his team received during the match and became visibly riled when asked to comment on the English chants of ``No surrender, no surrender, no surrender to the I-R-A'', which had interspersed the numerous renditions of Rule Britannia, God Save the Queen and the theme from Dambusters. ``I'm sorry, I can't comment on what I didn't hear'' he said, somewhat unconvincingly.
But although they have been here many times before, and setting aside Keegan's vapid, half-hearted criticisms of some England supporters, there has been a distinct shift in attitude in Britain towards this year's hooliganism. This probably began after Leeds supporters laid waste to the centre of Copenhagen a few weeks ago. On previous occasions, the British media, the football authorities and even MPs queued up to blame the opposing country's police and supporters for any trouble, pausing only to argue that on the English side it was merely a `tiny minority' of `hard-core trouble makers' who were involved. But this time it has become clear that hundreds, if not thousands of `ordinary' English supporters took part in the violence, a realisation which has led, in some quarters at least, to a more fundamental questioning of contemporary English culture.
It seems that the uncomfortable realisation has - finally - begun to dawn that, contrary to their cherished, deluded, image of themselves as gentle, tolerant, fair, peace-loving all-round good guys, the English are actually more willing than most to indulge in extreme levels of violence and racially-motivated hatred. In a prescient piece of writing in The Independent on 16 May, David Thomas wrote that, ``When they aren't snorting, sniffing, boozing or shagging, Brits are starting a fight. The Englishman's ability to cause trouble in foreign parts is an enduring shame on our nation'', an observation glaringly realised in Brussels. And on Tuesday this week, Hugo Young in The Guardian complained that the English have become ``experts in drunken violence, racist aggression, head-banging nationalism, copycat provocation, serial thuggery; and the snivelling whine about other people's policemen''.
The shameless hypocrisy of the British tabloid press, however, remains unchanged. The same newspapers which have, day after day, heaped abuse on every ethnic minority to cross their paths, have blithely issued righteous condemnations of the thuggery perpetrated by English supporters as if the racist mindset which led to it has nothing whatsoever to do with what appears in their pages. The Sun offered extravagant apologies to Holland, Belgium, Portugal and even, God help us, Germany, but it would be interesting to find out how many of the hundreds of the bigots who went on the rampage in Charleroi are true-blue Sun readers. Another purveyor of popular racism, The Daily Mirror, called the hooligans ``mindless, pathetic excuses for Englishmen''. Could this be the same Daily Mirror which has published acres of poisonous xenophobic rubbish at every opportunity and which ran what amounted to a `let's-all-punch-a-German' campaign during Euro 96?
But perhaps the most disgraceful piece of cant on the whole subject came from Home Secretary Jack Straw. In response to some savage criticism of the government's failure to quell English hooliganism abroad, he pleaded that to have banned those suspected of potential involvement in violence from travelling abroad during Euro 2000 (as other countries did) would have ``infringed their civil rights''. This is the same Home Secretary who, apart from abolishing the right to silence and the right to trial by jury (civil rights which were in any case long done away with in the Six Counties), avidly supports the PTA, is pushing through new `anti-terrorism' legislation which is even nastier than its predecessor and who has demanded the electronic surveillance of political activists on an unprecedented scale.
Absolute confirmation then, if we didn't know it well enough already, that it is in fact perfectly acceptable to infringe civil rights, but only so long as those whose rights are infringed - or blatantly violated - are Irish.