So here we are, almost at the end of the 2010 World Cup and 11 days after England’s exit made without a bang but with plenty of whimper.
I have no idea if those that run the English game will make any major changes, but I am very pleased to report that the loyal fans who travelled thousands of miles in support of the team have changed, and changed for the better.
This is the third World Cup that there has been virtually no sign of the bad old days. I believe that there have been no arrests for violence amongst the fans, yes zero this time around. Now this is definitely a good thing and shows the rest of the world that we have changed a lot, and will continue to do so. Has this change happened ‘naturally’ and in line with the free market theory? Or has there been intervention?
In truth there is evidence that free market, evolutionary principles have played their part, but so have authorities on both sides. A coming together of various ideas and approaches means that following England’s football team is no longer the dangerous pursuit it once was. Go back to the eighties and nineties and one’s memories of the local or host culture was more likely to be centred around police tactics, local thug hotspots and tales of skirmishes and chair throwing on warm sunny days. Warring factions within the England support was also always a factor. I can speak from experience in the 80s whereby being a West Ham supporter meant exactly that and there was no quarter given to other England fans. Firms from Burnley, Stoke, Carlisle, Portsmouth, Millwall, Sunderland would always clash along with Chelsea, Leeds, and biggest of the lot Man Utd. Liverpool and Everton fans would arrive before everyone else, avoid much of the violence and concentrate on ‘monetising’ their trips, much to the loss of local traders.
Over the years the dynamic changed from offensive in the early 80’s, to herd like in the 90’s into reactive and sometimes defensive at the turn of the century. Although I did not travel to South Korea (England were based in Japan for the tournament), the overall feeling was one of initial scepticism that the Japanese and Koreans would never be able to host a World Cup to a feeling of ‘what a fantastic World Cup and hats off to both hosts’. Indeed Japan/South Korea 2002 saw some key ‘game changers’.
1) Reception. This was the first time in my experience that the locals actually wanted the legions of foreign supporters in their country. Not only that, but the Japanese went out of their way to welcome us – even offering us gifts before matches and smiling constantly. There were no mobs of locals trying to make a reputation by fighting England football fans. Even the police were cool and did not behave proactively aggressively to us. That makes a big difference.
2) Example. Having seen the behaviour of English cricket and rugby fans down the years, despite copious amounts of alcohol and often crazy exposure to hard sunshine, football fans or at least some of them, decided to take the lead and change things. They also saw the rebranding of Scotland’s fans into the loveable ‘Tartan Army’ and thought, why can’t we do this? Whilst this has been an evolution rather than a revolution, the change is real and it is being noticed abroad.
3) Cost. Japan was and is expensive and thus much of the ‘exciteable youth’ could not afford it.
4) Intervention. The English police and government have steadily taken action against known troublemakers for years and have in excess of 3,500 banning orders in place to stop idiots travelling. This has helped enormously.
5) Time. Many of the passionate England football fans of the early 80’s let their passion boil over into violence. It is only a game and it is all about your mates and having a laugh. Some, if not all, have realised that marauding round some foreign city on a state of perpetual alert is actually quite stressful and completely unnecessary. Indeed, sitting in a bar drinking fine wine, foreign beer, and sampling all sorts of different foods is eminently more appealing.
6) Entertainment. One of the few things that FIFA has done outside of making billions of dollars out of the World Cup is to set up the biggest and longest sporting party in the world bar none. Football is all about entertainment ultimately, much as that will grate with the 40 somethings who have been brought up to follow the team of their forefathers without question. The passion for the shirt is still there, and so it should be, but it is no longer frowned upon to watch other games live and just live the whole footballing extravaganza to the full. The World Cup gets bigger, not necessarily better in terms of the quality of football, but it does get better in terms of the overall entertainment and vibe.
So, given that the fans have made changes, let’s see if the England players both present and future can do the same. The fans have shown the right example, leadership and commitment. Indeed, I wonder just how many England fans took the time to visit Robben Island, surely the most inspiring place in South Africa? I suspect thousands of them. Every single one I met had been there. How many England players did the same? Precisely zero. They were all too busy playing golf, or just tired out by the whole thing. Not so in the Netherlands camp. Those boys all gave up their time to visit the place of Nelson Mandela’s incarceration. Karma police note, who got into the final and who may just win this World Cup. Hup Holland!