England fans, 10 German Bombers and the glimpse into a thick slice of our culture

John Nicholson
An England fan is escorted by the German police
An England fan is escorted by the German police

I’m sure you’ve seen footage of some England fans in Germany re-fighting the Second World War through the medium of out-of-key, old songs on the streets of Gelsenkirchen and elsewhere. A bit of fighting and broken furniture and being called ‘the best fans’ for doing it. But there were no arrests, so that’s alright then.

It’s bizarre, yet sadly familiar and is looked upon by most civilians with a mixture of disgust and puzzlement. I know it’s far from everyone, and I wouldn’t seek to tar all with the same brush, but following England has long attracted a nasty minority who look to behave horribly if they can. Even if there’s no trouble, you have to be realistic that there might be. It’s in your mind.

It is considered quintessentially English by Europeans, whose police go into riot mode, fearful that other countries will be drawn in to have a go. It just enables the headbangers and they take it as an endorsement. They will say it’s not offensive, just rivalry, only banter – their favourite excuse for all vile behaviour. Don’t be so sensitive. It’s fan culture you soft shite.

Imagine if you lived there and some fleshy balding pink-faced beer swillers chanting about the war were getting in your way. How would you like it? It always seems they take it too far and can’t resist the xenophobic chanting as anyone who has been caught up in people from Swindon chanting ‘I’d rather be a P*ki than a Turk’ before playing neither Pakistan nor Turkey, knows. Just a bit of fun,

Even if it doesn’t happen every game, if you doubt that this represents a strong strain within English culture, the election campaign vox pops and the epic ignorance they too often reveal, illustrate how uninformed and unthinking some people are and what their outdated and delusional cultural values are and how they think if you don’t agree with them, then you’re some sort of over-intellectual middle-class elitist and not just a regular person.

There is a big split between those who see nothing wrong with such behaviour, seemingly giving impunity to football fans who need no excuse to behave awfully, and those offended by it who think it’s the worst kind of bullying and boorishness.

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Other countries’ fans indulge in similar behaviour and, if anything, are more right-wing thugs than the pissed-up England fans on tour, but the English specialise in doing it with a strong English exceptionalism.

Those who delight in this sort of thing must look upon those who don’t with puzzlement. Why don’t you want to sing ‘10 German bombers’ with six steins of lager in you, while standing on a table, with a flare in hand, possibly with a flare up your arse, chanting your support for Nigel Farage?

They seem to live a life so devoid of fun that they live for such moments to brighten up their monotonous existence. Perhaps the things the rest of us like to do seem boring to them? Indeed it seems to have nothing to do with football. I once met a Frenchman who was living in the UK. Asked about how he had experienced English culture, he said “too much glug, glug, glug, fight”. He was amazed at the British drinking-for-oblivion instinct.

The tie-in to politics and Brexit is irresistible, though probably a bit wide of the mark sometimes. But England does seem to have a uniquely peculiar relationship with Europe and Europeans, or at least these people do, viewing them with a mixture of suspicion and contempt. I don’t know why or how. But it was best expressed by some Brexit voters, who said, “I don’t want to go abroad, it’s full of foreigners.” Seriously. They were not joking. At core they were frightened and ‘abroad’ was a foreign country to be wary of.

As representatives of the country, they make us seem very inferior, little people with a narrow out-of-date cultural outlook and I suspect those people would take that as a compliment, so removed are they from what they would call the culture of ‘latte-drinking elites’ or normal, rational football fans who don’t get their self-worth and identity from singing tired old songs about tired old things.

Don’t forget this is a sub-sect that more than likely and quite extraordinarily voted to restrict their and their children’s freedom of movement. Imagine that. The same people apparently think the sort of coffee you drink defines you and are always thinking everyone is as obsessed as they are with ‘woke culture,’ a term only they use.

Of course, as unpopular as this behaviour is with most people, the more the participants wallow in their supposed rebel status and are most likely to say it ‘annoys all the right people’ and that’s why they do it.

They don’t crave the sort of vicious violence dished out by Russian thugs at the 2018 World Cup; they prefer boorishness, taking their lead from the government and others which wallows in it, topped off with an icing of ignorance.

I hope we don’t see anything worse than a bit of idiot chanting – that’s a low bar. We will cringe in embarrassment at the predictability of their behaviour even if it doesn’t lead to arrests. And the more they and their supportive readers at home will hate us for our squeamishness and excuse it by saying other fans from other countries do it, as though that makes it better.

Meanwhile, an actual war rages on. This is 2024.