What’s the story?
In the first week of International football tournament Euro 2016, English and Russian football fans clashed on the streets of the quiet French town of Lille, then again more seriously in the stadium during their opening round match. Both teams were threatened with expulsion from the competition, before the fans of several other countries became involved in similar violence, casting a nasty shadow over the whole tournament.
They were scenes which most people hoped had been consigned to history. English football fans, tanked up on beer and decked out in red and white, rampaging through foreign towns showcasing the very worst elements of British culture. News reports showed police in running battles with chanting supporters; sickening YouTube clips emerged, demonstrating even worse behaviour from fans preparing for England’s first Euro 2016 match against Russia.
Then in the stadium, things got even worse. Russian supporters attacked their English counterparts in what appeared to be a cleverly co-ordinated attack; many normal, peaceful people were caught up in the crossfire. In the aftermath, both teams were threatened by organisers UEFA with expulsion from the tournament.
As the competition progressed, further incidents proved that it’s not only England and Russia that have a hooligan problem. In the game between Croatia and the Czech Republic, exploding flares were even thrown on to the pitch. Meanwhile, fans of Hungary, Belgium and Portugal were also involved in violence and became subject to the same threat: that their teams would be thrown out of Euro 2016 because of the fans behaviour.
Fans, and particularly English ones, were once notorious for their involvement in football-related violence, but some had believed that the problem had all but disappeared. If anything, it appears to be even more widespread now than in the 1980s. It poses a question for many: why are these people so angry, and why do they feel entitled to cause such devastation abroad when their behaviour is generally much more measured at home?
Whatever the answers, and however well the police control fans for the rest of the tournament, the damage is done. Hooliganism is alive and well, a considerable problem for the English football authorities – as well as their counterparts in other nations – to seriously address.
What have others been saying?
Perhaps surprisingly, the British press leapt to the defence of most English football fans. Zoe Williams in the Guardian suggested that “If we cast all football fans as thugs, only the hooligans win”, while David Millward, writing in the Telegraph went further, laying the blame for the violence at France’s door for it’s poor tournament planning.
Ollie Baines’ provocative blog for Premier Christianity says that “even football won’t fill the empty lives of hooligans.”
Meanwhile the BBC news magazine suggests five proactive steps that might limit or even stop football hooliganism.
#1 – WHOLENESS / EMPTINESS
When Jesus famously talks to the bemused Pharisees about being ‘the Good Shepherd’, he’s talking about his offer to take us all on the path towards wholeness and contentment. Perhaps the most famous verse from this passage in John 10 is v10: “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” It’s the moment in the gospels where Jesus perhaps spells out most clearly that he is the route to the fullest, most fulfilling experience of life on earth. In contrast, football hooligans are exploring the opposite: a short-lived burst of adrenaline which only leads to regret and eventually a feeling of emptiness.
#2 – ANGER / PEACE
It’s hard to deny that there’s a lot of war and fighting in the Bible, but Jesus’ message is one of peace. The angels promise peace to the Shepherds on the occasion of his birth in Luke 2; he issues a blessing to those who make peace during his famous Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5. That’s not to say that God doesn’t understand or even approve of anger; but it has to be correctly motivated. Anger towards injustice is often a driver of social change; this ‘righteous’ anger has motivated some of our great leaders. The key for each of us is channelling our feelings that all is not right with the world, rather than allowing ourselves to become angry over selfish issues of entitlement or disappointment at our own lives. The racist anger displayed by some football fans at Euro 2016 is a pertinent example of the latter.
Points for prayer
- Pray for a peaceful conclusion to Euro 2016, so that it might be remembered for sporting achievement, rather than ugly scenes of violence.
- Pray for safety for all fans as they travel to, around and home from France.
- Pray for the various national football authorities, such as the UK’s FA, that they would make wise choices in combatting hooliganism, and make positive steps toward stamping it out.
- Pray for the hooligans, that they might reflect on their actions, and realise a need to change.
Martin Saunders is Youthscape’s Deputy Chief Executive. A former editor of Youthwork magazine and the founding Editor of sister-title Childrenswork, Martin is a popular speaker and the author of various books including ‘Youth Work From Scratch’. He lives in Reigate, Surrey with his wife Jo and their four children.