While I would not normally condone police brutality, in the case of England football fans I am ready to make an exception. So, too, it seems, much of the world.
One of the most gleefully shared World Cup video clips on social media this week was not of any memorable ball skills on the football pitch. It was, instead, of the remarkable truncheoning skills of some Russian police officers, as they laid into a brace of Pom soccer hooligans with long, wicked-looking staves.
In an excess of enthusiasm at making the semi-finals, the yobbos had made the mistake of leaping onto the bonnets and roofs of cars, then jumping up and down, while hooting, hollering and thumping their bared chests. This is apparently an ancient Anglo-Saxon foreplay ritual, judging by the coos of admiration coming from their inebriated womenfolk, when they looked up from puking genteelly into the gutters.
One England fan then made the mistake of using a Russian police vehicle as a trampoline.
It was a miscalculation of potentially Darwinian proportions. To mistake the Russian rozzers for British bobbies could literally be a fatal error.
As we all know from splutteringly indignant articles in the likes of The Telegraph, effete British cops nowadays spend less time on policing than they do on sensitivity training. It’s all about wearing pink ribbons to show solidarity with Gay Pride marches and courteously assisting that little old lady suicide bomber across the zebra crossing outside Westminster.
In contrast, the Russian cops are basically street thugs who have been handed uniforms and carte blanche by an unappetisingly authoritarian regime. More than one in five Russians say they have seen police violence first-hand, with one in eight claiming to have been the actual victim of police brutality.
Accordingly, England fans in Russia have generally been well behaved. Many of the known troublemakers, in any case, had been pre-emptively barred from travelling to the World Cup, although keeping troublemakers home, in the United Kingdom, has its own disadvantages.
Many UK police forces reported being overwhelmed with calls last Saturday evening, after England’s 2-0 quarter-final victory over Sweden, according to the Express. Videos of fans damaging property and vehicles, including emergency response cars, spread across social media over the weekend, prompting public outrage.
Deputy Chief Constable Mark Roberts, the national head of policing football, was pleased that if England had to lose, that it was to Croatia. Croatia, he pointed out with a sigh of relief, doesn’t manufacture any motor vehicle brands that could be trashed by enraged England fans.
“We are relieved that Croats are not mass exporters of inanimate objects for fans to vent their spleen on,” Roberts said.
That was the fate of German marques, such as Volkswagen and Mercedes, when England lost to Germany in Euro 1996. This particular tournament heralded a new era of football violence, as Russian hooligans equipped with martial arts weaponry battled the English in France.
That’s one of the ugly sides to the game, at least in the UK. But even uglier than kicking in the tantalisingly smug grill of that BMW parked at the corner, which ironically was likely at least partly built in the UK, is the habit of kicking in the face of the missus.
Domestic violence soars when England loses, according to an analysis in The Conversation. A Lancaster University study across the 2002, 2006 and 2010 World Cups, found at 26% increase in reports of domestic violence when England won or drew, rising by 38% when England lost, and peaking when England exited the tournament.
It remains one of the enduring mysteries of life exactly why so many of the fans of the “beautiful game” are such monsters, while the fans of one of the most brutal sports, rugby, are rarely, if ever, guilty of post-match mayhem. There has never been any need for a UK top cop to be placed in charge of policing that country’s rugby spectators.
In rugby, all the violence is on the pitch. While their heroes might engage in all kinds of argy-bargy in the scrum – ear-biting, testicle-twisting and face-punching – opposing rugger fans don’t have to be separated by barbed wire and concrete barriers, but will happily sit down for a beer together afterwards.
There are, of course, many theories about why this difference exists, including that hoary one trotted out in the film Invictus: “Well, you know what they say about soccer. It's a gentleman's game played by hooligans. On the other hand, rugby is a hooligan's game played by gentlemen.”
There is, unfortunately, very little academic research on the topic. Maybe it’s simply a matter of imitated behaviour, or of a national culture that encourages strong values.
In which case, my three cheers for World Cup 2018 go to underdog Japan. They shocked everyone, including themselves, by almost making it to the quarter finals, to fall 3-2 to Belgium.
But they delighted the world with the sportsmanship of their fans, who had jaws dropping when at the end of every game they produced rubbish bags to collect all the rubbish strewn around the stands.
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