A Dark Day Under the Wembley Arch

By David Scane

As a child, my formative experience of watching England play at international football tournaments was one of dread. Beyond the fear of the penalty shootout, the freak metatarsal break or the soft red card the thing I dreaded the most was the inevitable scenes on the evening news of smashed up continental town squares.

It was Marseille in 1998 where England ‘fans’ fought running battles with the French police along the beaches throwing plastic furniture, bottles and anything else they could get their hands on in the air. Two years later it was Belgium’s turn to be subject to mindless thuggery where the local authorities in Charleroi were forced to use water cannons to quell a riot in which over 500 people were arrested.

Whatever happened on the pitch was sure to be marred by the ugliness off it, and the authorities appeared to have no way of getting the situation under control.  

But then the tide appeared to turn. World Cup 2002, hosted in Japan and South Korea, was sufficiently far enough away to prevent serious trouble occurring. Then at Euro 2004 over 2,000 people were banned from travelling to Portugal as authorities fought to prevent a repeat of the trouble four years earlier.  

Despite fears of violence at subsequent tournaments we thankfully didn’t see a repeat of the scenes from the 80’s, 90s and early 2000s. The authorities appeared to have got a grip on the problem by enforcement of stringent banning orders and working with local police forces.

Then football came home. What should have been a glorious day celebrating a showcase event at the home of football turned into a drink and drug fuelled throwback to the dark days of the past.

As the dust settles on the final of Euro 2020 and the disappointment of England losing recedes, the greater disappointment of the actions of a sizeable minority grows ever greater. The videos circulating on social media of crowds pushing past security cordons and forcing their ways into the stadium is only made worse by the stories of violence and intimidation once they made it inside.

The authorities estimate that up to 5,000 people forced their way inside the ground on that Sunday night, and the ease with which the security was breached needs to be immediately reviewed to ensure it never happens again. It is only by sheer luck that no one turned up to the stadium with far worse intentions than forcing their way in to watch a game of football otherwise the failure of security could have led to much worse.

Where does English football go from here? Thankfully, the actions of a mindless few will not detract from the hope and pride that Gareth Southgate and the boys gave the country this summer, but it will leave some awkward questions, particularly for the Football Association who pride themselves in advising other nations about how to manage crowds at their own grounds.

With tickets going on sale for the new Premier League season next week clubs up and down the country will be urgently reviewing their security arrangements, and police forces will no doubt be keeping a close eye out for known trouble makers. Parents with small children (mine included) who were inspired by England’s heroic exploits this summer may now reconsider taking them to a live game all together.

This summer, thanks to the England team my son and thousands of other kids his age fell in love with football. It would be tragic if for the actions of a mindless few now made them change their minds.