Over at Project Syndicate, Ian Buruma has written on the World Cup, and the tribal passions that football invokes. In particular, he talks of Football Nationalists, as opposed to Nationalists. The latter are frowned upon generally, at least in European society, the author suggests, due not least to the influence of the Second World War. But all that restraint in public life led to the expression of nationalism finding an alternative outlet – in the football stadium.
This is, in general, true. English football fans haven’t really let the nation down at a major Championships now since the Holland-Belgium European Championships in 2004 – but that’s only because the more unpleasant parts of the England fan base (skin-heads, tattooed, singers of songs about the IRA and the Second World War) are now unable to travel during major championships hence cannot get there to make trouble.
The unpleasantness though, remains, and sometimes its remarkably hard to fathom. Recently I had the misfortune to cycle past the back of Oxford United’s stadium (I live within 5 minutes walk of the stadium) after a match. The match was in the 5th division of English football (the Blue Square Premier) between Oxford and Kettering. Yet there were police officers and stewards having to keep groups of supporters of the two teams apart! The groups were singing various inflammatory songs at each other, yet I’m sure if the groups didn’t have shirts on and weren’t at a football match, they wouldn’t have given each other the time of day, and might have even shared a few comments over a pint watching an England match in a pub.
Then if you’re ever at a match where the home and away supporters are segregated, you’ll find the kinds of people that sit near the segregation are the most odd people you’ve ever come across. Their interest is actually not the match, but is shouting across the segregation, looking for some reaction from the fans of the opposing team.
I don’t understand it, and probably I never will…