The stage is set for Euro 2000
The stage has been set, the scripts have been written, and the cameras and the world's press are in position. The police in Holland and the other countries in which England will play are ready for action. All that is needed now is that the obliging volunteer dramatis personae of hooligans learn their lines well and follow their stage directions. Given all the attention paid to this small minority of English fans that occasionally causes trouble, violence of some kind is inevitable. And the media will seize on every example, no matter how trivial, to justify their apocalyptic predictions.
This process has already started. In the London Evening Standard, for example, we read 'First arrest as fans flood in'. One 36 year old from the West Midlands punched somebody in a bar in Eindhoven. But read on past the first seven paragraphs of this 'it's happening as predicted' article and we read that:
"… police in Amsterdam, where many England supporters stayed last night, praised the peaceful conduct of the English supporters. Amsterdam police superintendent Klaas Wilting said: "We had a great night in Amsterdam – now we really love the British football fans. It was very crowded but everyone was in good spirits and we never felt threatened."
Why, therefore, do we not have headlines such as 'Dutch Police Praise England Fans'? Perhaps because that would make some parts of the British press look a little foolish?
It is estimated that around 20,000 English fans have now arrived in Holland. Given their age, socio-economic status, and especially given the charged atmosphere into which they have been plunged, it would be quite remarkable if a 36 year old from the West Midlands didn't punch someone in the face. In fact, it would be so remarkable that it would attract countless sociology PhD students eager to account for this oasis of passivity in an area populated by otherwise quite aggressive young males.
We are not asking that the media deliberately omit reports of punch-ups in bars and fights between rival supporters. Nor do we ask that the many unlovely and often racists characters who tag along on the fringes of football should be portrayed as sweet innocents. We do ask, however, that English fans be given fair treatment, just for once, and that the positive aspects of the behaviour of the majority are given due attention. They could also have a look at the SIRC report Football Violence in Europe.