The twin nations of Kandinsky, Dostoyevsky, Orwell and Reynolds have not covered themselves in glory over the last 48 hours. They can both be relied upon to show their darker sides when it comes to football support and the recent events in Marseille are pretty much par for the course.
From skimming reports over the weekend, it does seems that the England fans in the stadium were more sinned against than sinning. However, if one was tasked with pitting two moronic sets of football fans together, you would be hard-pushed to find a better pairing than England and Russia. Russian fans bring a heady mix of violent hooliganism and genuine race-hate. There’s a worrying certainty about the vitriolic hatred spewed by the worst of them, but one doesn’t get the impression they consider themselves to be acting on behalf of the nation. They are imbecilic thugs, acting in that manner because that’s what they are programmed to do. Football gives them a platform and an ‘enemy’ on which to focus, but they are the sort of people who will pick a fight with anyone, presumably for the most incidental reasons. Their anger runs more deeply than a wish to assert national identity and their hatred isn’t focused on any one group in particular, though it’s hard not to assume a directly proportional relationship between their ire and skin darkness.
England’s thugs on the other hand consider themselves to be genuine patriots; modern day crusaders keen to spread their gospel. They are united by a slavish devotion to Queen and country, St George and all things English. That is the line they peddle, but it’s simply not true. They are united by hate: hatred of things they perceive as non-English, hatred of things that are different, hatred of thing they don’t understand. They are the most mis-guided of patriots, with no message to deliver and no uniting culture or beliefs to fall back on. In attempting to fly the flag for Englishness, they succeed only in disgusting the rest of the world. “F*ck you Europe, we’re voting out” and “ISIS, where are you” (Marseille has a large Muslim population) are two of their little Englander chants. They do not define themselves by what they are, but by what they despise, which is both easy and and cowardly. Defining ourselves by what we are, what we love and what we believe in requires genuine integrity and a willingness to put our heads above the parapet.
A refusal to eat foreign food does not define you as a patriot. Neither does drinking in establishments that most closely resemble ones from home. Neither does shaving your head, inking a cross of St George or developing a beer gut. This is patriotism as defined by the English Defence League. At every major football tournament, England produce an underperforming team and a rabble of fans that shame us to the world. I’ve seen more faux chain-mail, bad teeth, pork-pie hats, sunburned faces, sleeve tattoos, fitted polo shirts and mobile bellies than I need to see in one lifetime. An advanced sense of xenophobia is not my idea of patriotism. Dewch ymlaen Cymru.