Commentary

Besides the violence, some fans are fighting for change

Ten days have passed at the Euro 2016 Finals and as a football tournament, this one has a bit of catching up to do.

Events on the pitch have been less relevant than what we've seen in the stands and in city centres. It is not the tournament of the diving header but of the flying chair.

There have been too many airborne chairs. But it's the video clip of the England fan being kicked on the ground that you can't bear to watch.

Assaults such as that one do happen and mostly in situations unrelated to football but, when it is connected to the game, it destroys what we're hoping to create.


An England fan hurls a chair in Marseille, the day before the 1-1 draw against Russia, at Euro 2016. Yet there have also been some instances of rival fans showing support for each other. PHOTO: REUTERS

How can it be beyond the capability of our football authorities and law enforcement agencies to ensure better behaviour at tournaments?

Football has to be more insistent on good behaviour. There is a yearning... coming from within. You could feel it in the way England and Wales fans responded to each other in the game in Lens.

This is the era of the digital camera, where virtually every miscreant is filmed and traceable. How difficult would it be to make sure that every misbehaving fan is made to pay for his crime?

There is almost an acceptance of bad behaviour, grim recognition that with alcohol and tribalism, it is part of the deal.

Why try to avoid staging a game like England against Russia late on a Saturday evening in Marseille, after fans have been drinking all afternoon, when they're likely to fight at any time of the day?

Was it to save money that Uefa had so little security inside the Velodrome stadium?

Football has to be more insistent on good behaviour. There is a yearning for better behaviour and it is coming from within. You could feel it in the way England and Wales fans responded to each other in the game in Lens.

Both national anthems were sung with gusto and, more remarkably, there was no booing or whistling during the other team's anthem.

This desire for something more uplifting was evident elsewhere.

The most poignant expression of decency came during the Ireland v Sweden game at the Stade de France when fans of the Republic's team paid tribute to Darren Rodgers, the 24-year-old Northern Ireland fan who lost his life in an accident in Nice. "Stand Up For The Ulstermen," they sang.

There was also that wonderful photograph of the injured Polish fan in an ambulance, his hand being held by a Northern Irish fan.

You see that and you know there are countless moments of friendship, infinite little encounters that create laughter and fun between rival fans.

They go mostly unreported but the potential for building on the good things that we have seen over the last week depends entirely on our ability to discourage the bad stuff.

What happened at the Croatia v Czech Republic game in St Etienne should be unacceptable but it's not.

It is probable that the appalling behaviour of the Croatia fans in the last minutes of their game affected their own team adversely and contributed to squandering a 2-0 lead to end in a draw.

Croatia's manager, Ante Cacic, was incensed by the behaviour of some of his team's fans. "They have no place in the stadia and now it is totally clear they are hooligans, they are not supporters and they are ruining everything we are doing," he said.

"These people are scary. We had threats before the game but these are sport terrorists."

Hooligans, terrorists, nasty spoilsports, call them what you will. Football is not dealing with them very effectively.

THE TIMES, LONDON

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 20, 2016, with the headline 'Besides the violence, some fans are fighting for change'. Print Edition | Subscribe