The British football fan is not the first to cross over the line from fandom to nuisance, nor will he be the last.
In the end, the cup journeyed Rome — and the British fans hurtled into the dark, angry depths of a bender. Some bullied young Italian fans and beat up others, defaced a mural of footballer Marcus Rashford after he missed a penalty in the finals of the European Championship against Italy, and finished a spectacular display of boorishness with racist social media abuse at more young black footballers. The morning after was as sober and painful as a hangover. Not only were the English players hurt and angry, even Conservative politicians like Priti Patel, who had snickered at “gesture politics” of taking a knee on the football ground against racism, denounced such behaviour by the lads.
The British football fan is not the first to cross over the line from fandom to nuisance, nor will he be the last. India’s cricket fans too have been unforgiving of their heroes, when matches are lost and sporting mistakes magnified into national calamities. This excess is, perhaps, built into modern televised sport. Matches bear the burden of not just victory and loss, or billions of ad revenues — but also identity and partisanship, narratives of nationalism and collective redemption.
The England football team, as is the case in many other European countries, reflects the country’s diversity. Multi-culturalism equals a breadth of talent that powers it to big matches, but leads to trickier contestations over politics and resources in a populist, post-Brexit era. It only takes a high-stakes sporting loss for a history of racism and inequality to flare up. England’s football establishment has done well to push back against such meltdowns, and protect their players. Sport is increasingly a staging ground for battles off the playground. This time round, however, the English football team was roundly trounced — by its fans.
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