Should you be reading this, it’s more likely than not that, at some stage in your life, you will have been on a stag weekend. And, hopefully, the celebration of you or one of your pals getting hitched did not descend into the abuse of locals, atonal singing about the IRA or endless ditties sung about the Second World War. It is also almost certain that you didn’t fight in the Second World War.
The ‘stag do mentality’ is the widespread explanation given for the behaviour of England fans in Portugal this week, something labelled as “an embarrassment to the country” by Gareth Southgate in the aftermath of Thursday’s Nations League defeat to the Dutch.
There will be many Englishman who feel that the drunken, ugly mob living out their adolescent fantasies of fighting for their country by throwing bottles and dishing out racial abuse deserved to watch a losing team. The progress made by Southgate’s young team has certainly been marred by the behaviour of some of those fans who travelled to Porto and then Guimaraes.
Kicking off at Fan Zone after England fans throw bottles at police and police respond by charging at England fans … police cheered on by locals pic.twitter.com/yTGnqAiB3d
— Sean Ingle (@seaningle) June 5, 2019
Just days after an all-English Champions League final in which Tottenham and Liverpool fans had partied in Madrid with hardly a cross word spoken, a corps of cargo-shorted John Bulls had reminded just why English fans are to be avoided where possible. Such was the fear of them in Guimaraes that schools and businesses were shut down on match day. So much for such events being a boost to the local economy.
Not every England fan behaves like this. Not even remotely. But anyone who has seen their country play away from home will not have to look far for a seething underbelly – or beer belly – of resentment of foreigners, a belief in the superiority of Perfidious Albion, and one that will be demonstrated by stripping to the waist, drinking a not inconsiderable bodyweight in strong lager, and singing abusive songs.
Over in Portugal the signs were there from the moment flights landed in Portugal and a section of England fans chose to queue for non-EU passports to mark their belief in Brexit. By Wednesday night, the gathering of the tribes in Porto saw a series of skirmishes with police and locals who would have preferred to concentrate on Cristiano Ronaldo’s hat-trick against Switzerland than deal with red-faced, inebriated “Tommy Robinson” impressionists.
England fans chanting Ten German bombers as police watch on … pic.twitter.com/msiCB64MtP
— Sean Ingle (@seaningle) June 5, 2019
There are plenty of apologists for what happened on Wednesday night and throughout Thursday. The excuses were markedly similar to those made in France three years ago during the build-up to England’s game with Russia. That match, you may recall, ended with England fans fleeing for their lives in the Stade Velododrome, and in the streets of Marseille, when fitter, far nastier Russian ultras made their charge.
The Russians, whose activities were even praised by a smirking Vladimir Putin, were terrifying, their behaviour an affront to the game and common decency, putting the fear of God into women, children and innocent fans who had just come to see their team play. However, among that fleeing mob of Englishmen were a not-so innocent bunch. Anyone who visited Marseille’s Old Port that week will have not been able to miss the sound of “Ten German Bombers” blasting from the Queen Victoria pub and its Irish neighbour, O’Malley’s.
In the manner of the wartime British Expeditionary Forces that they so idolise and lionise, first among England fans’ aims is to occupy the city centres where their team is playing, and then, in the style of an occupying army, show disrespect for the locals.
In Marseille, as in Porto, the behaviour was provocative, not at all friendly, but when locals and rivals fans kicked back, the protestations were of innocence. Back in 2016, and before the Russians arrived in town, England fans got a shoeing from the locals, many of whom were North African immigrants, and who had not taken too kindly to the Islamophobic anthems belting out. “They started it” was the order of the day.
An observer of the make-up of England’s away support would not take long to notice that the majority of them are not associated with the Premier League’s giants. Instead, the England flags are decorated with the names of provincial towns and small clubs; these fans get their Euro away days not in the Champions or Europa Leagues but by following the players from those big clubs when they join together on international duty.
Small-town England is not a happy place in this age of austerity, with Brexit continuing to create divisions and resentment, and the likes of Nigel Farage and “Tommy Robinson” ciphers of the rage against the dying of the light of the old ways.
Should you choose to decry England fans’ behaviour on Twitter, it is likely that you, a “lefty”, will then be presented with supreme whataboutery centred around Islamic “rape gangs” and their supposed wholesale conquering of the country with the police doing nothing to stop it, instead picking on them for doing nothing more than having drinks and harmless banter with the lads. There is much talk of “fake news” agenda against our brave boys.
Within the England away mob, or at least those who make their business to make a nuisance of themselves, it goes without saying that there are not too many Jeremy Corbyn supporters or Green Party voters.
This is a band of brothers who, aside from honouring the Queen and those who fought at Agincourt, Trafalgar and on the beaches of Normandy, want to emulate the 1980s golden age of hooliganism fetishised in films like the Football Factory and Green Street.
The peoples of places like Guimaraes and Podgorica are reminded of the innate superiority of the Englishman through the medium of extreme drunkenness and songs about wars that are eight decades past, or in the case of the IRA have been pretty much out of commission since 1998.
And all without actually having to fight such battles themselves.
It all adds up to watching England away being the stag do to which anyone with a brain would be swiftly turning down an invitation.