Euro 2017 has been such an enjoyable tournament on the pitch so far. England look absolutely top notch, and their winning 2-0 performance against Spain with just 26% possession was deeply wonderful.
But off the pitch it has been great to see fans sitting together, without segregation. To trust fans of opposing sides not to thrust a brick into each others faces shouldn’t be a big thing, but sadly, at football, it is.
Even while recognising that fans do like to gather together in a kind of tribal way, nevertheless it’s important to recognise that football should be played in grounds where all fans can intermingle without any problems. But the notion that this is not possible isn’t a recent thing. The days of “taking an end” began in the 1970s and reached a zenith in the 80s. But going back to post-war days, when crowds were at historical highs, very little or no separation between supporters existed. Perhaps fighting in world wars gave everyone a perspective and hitting someone who liked a different team to you seemed…well, pointless and pathetic.
Does any other sport attract crowds which want to fight each other, abuse each other, or indeed abuse themselves? I’m not sure it does. I was once at the Scottish League Cup Final and witnessed Hibernian fans getting in the faces of each other about differences of opinion about their own team. I say fans, I mean men. The problem with football violence and abuse is that it is obviously a male thing.
OK, let’s drill that down a bit further. It’s obviously not just a male thing, for that is too broad. It’s a specific type of male, thing, and we all know who they are. We see them in everyday life. Up here in Scotland, I call them “the boys”.
The boys are men usually aged 20-50, they go out with their smart shirts worn out over jeans like it’s still 1996 and they lack any self-awareness. The boys are massively emotionally repressed and rarely smile when sober. They’re never nice to each other. Look at them in large groups and they all walk with hands in pockets, uneasy and inhibited until booze gives them licence to be otherwise.
The boys don’t have women as friends. The boys are the dumb, selfish ones, chanting songs and swearing in front of children as though the rest of public don’t matter. In their defence, the boys would just shrug, as though no real crime has been committed and say “aye well, that’s just the boys, isn’t it?” like that excuses it.
But “the boys” don’t like women’s football do they? So you won’t see them there. And hey, look, weirdly, there’s no trouble. Suddenly, fans can sit together without distress to anyone. But look at the crowd and they don’t look much different to any other crowd, except perhaps women are present in greater numbers. The only real difference is “the boys” aren’t there.
I know people who will not go to football anymore because of “the boys” and what they say and do. They will not take their kids to the game because “the boys” will be there, swearing and abusing players and fans. Laughing loudly and thinking that it’s all part of “the banter”. Because “the boys” love banter, don’t they? They will excuse everything up to and including actual assault as banter.
If we all had to live our life without “the boys” that life would be so much a better.
Let’s say this loud and clear, almost all of us hate “the boys” with their boorish preening, puffed out chest and wearing THAT look. The look that is looking for trouble. The look that says “are you looking at me, pal?” They are not us. They are not the men most of us are and we feel insulted that, due to our genitalia, we are lumped in with them by the authorities. We don’t have to be policed, they do.
You can absolutely trust me inside of a football ground or outside a football ground not to get into a fight, or be verbally or physically aggressive towards anyone. You don’t need any police to watch over me, you don’t need to film me on CCTV. In all my years of going to football that has been true and it has been true of everyone I’ve ever gone to football with.
This isn’t some great self aggrandising claim of moral superiority. It’s just normal behaviour. It is “the boys” who are abnormal. It is “the boys” that domestic abuse statistics prove come home after a local derby game and assault their family when their side has lost in hugely increased numbers.
Why can’t these people just be decent and civilised? Why can’t they behave well? Why when you get gangs of “the boys” together do they feel justified or empowered to kick off and make everyone’s life hell? Because it’s not football that provokes this behaviour, it is just attached to football, or somehow given licence by football.
“The boys” are a plague on our society. We spend a fortune policing them, we have always be aware if there’s a gang of them on the streets as we come home from a night out. They choke up A & E with their bloodied and bruised bodies after some dreadful drunken violent incident. They hurt themselves and they hurt other people and they are an absolute sodding disgrace but if you told “the boys” this, they wouldn’t understand because it’s just all part of the banter.
Euro 2017 is showing us what a life without “the boys” would be like. And it looks bloody great.