The ugly side of the beautiful game has reared its ugly head, again. While the games so far have been interesting rather than thrilling, and results pleasingly unpredictable in many cases, off the pitch, fan behaviour has been appalling. And it’s hard to fathom why.
Pre-tournament, many expected Europe to unite behind their French cousins, in the wake of terrorist atrocities, not smash up their bars, launch flares onto their pitches or bottles at their police.
Sure, there have been instances of fans warming hearts and bringing a good name to football – Welsh fans serenading a recently married couple, Irish fans singing a lullaby to a sleepy child on a train.
But these feelgood moments don’t make the main news. Shots of Russian and English fans kicking in each other’s heads and fighting in the stands do.
Is it a new generation of fan wanting a slice of the violence that blighted the game in the 1970s and 80s? Is it Britain’s impending referendum on whether to distance itself from the continent politically as well as geographically that’s fuelling the unrest?
Or is this just a one-off, a blip on the game’s long path back to respectability? Is this just the Grumpy Euros, staged underneath dark, rain-filled skies in a year that has seen an inordinate amount of bad news already – particularly when it comes to celebrity deaths?
As we reach the end of the Group stages, let’s hope the only knock-outs we see in the next phase happen on the pitch.
And let’s not forget that the next big meet up for international football teams just happens to be Russia. Now, who’s going to want to travel there to watch their team play in 2018, when they risk being greeted by black-shirted thugs intent on giving them a good kicking?
No question, Russia deserves to host the tournament, and no nation should be punished for the actions of a few of its fans. But Moscow is going to need to do a job to persuade the world that it’s safe to come and watch football there.
Not that I’ll be venturing far from my trusty armchair.
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