The problems with football in Europe: how they have now come back to England


Why football violence is back

By Tony Attwood

One of the interesting contrasts between football in the UK and in Europe of late is that England has seen a constant reduction in the level of crowd trouble in recent years while the problem in parts of Europe seems to be on the rise again.

It used to be argued that crowd violence was related to poverty, but at the moment when one looks at it, that doesn’t really make sense.  In Switzerland, for example, a country whose football is well-known to a couple of our European correspondents, football violence is very much on the rise.  Indeed we experienced it at an Arsenal match a few years back – and if you don’t recall, you might care to check back on that article, which has some graphic illustrations of what I mean.

And my European correspondents are telling me that in the last two decades, fans have formed into violent cliques relating to football clubs.    And because the income from TV rights for Swiss matches is much lower than in England, clubs are utterly dependent on the money they take on the gate.  So wholesale banning orders are virtually unknown.

Indeed I remember seeing Zurich fans march through north London to the Arsenal stadium, shepherded by police and officials, the fans then creating havoc within the ground with their flares. 

As one of our Swiss correspondents recently added, “I’ve witnessed fans of FC Basel go to a game in Lausanne. From the train station to the stadium it is a little over a mile.  They refused to take the bus and marched through the city, blocking all the traffic.

“And the only thing I was thinking was: this looks so much like the SA/SS marching through German cities and screaming Heil Hitler….   They looked menacing, they behaved menacingly, and I could not understand what this had to do with football…

“If I am not mistaken, they destroyed the train carriages on the way back to Basel – which is pretty much the rule in Switzerland.  And again, I just do not get it, how not much happens. Who pays for that? Why can they get away with it, while any normal person would be arrested?”

Now as those of us of a certain age will remember, the authorities in Switzerland at Uefa, and in  England dealt with the issue after the horrors of Heysel. On 2 June 1985 Uefa banned English clubs from Europe.

But now the problem is returning – we have seen it in north London for some European games, and everyone knows where the problem is, and yet the police and authorities seem unable to deal with it.  And there was the Euro final…

So what is going on?

In the classic explanation of uprisings, it is argued that they occur when people feel a lack of empowerment.  An argument that has been used for the days when terrace violence was common in England was just that – the supporters had no control over what they felt was “their club” and so found a way to be noticed.

But now the level of engagement in clubs is even lower than before – and I can speak from personal experience having been involved in an issue with Arsenal this past season where the club had made what might at best be described as a contentious decision, or worst a total cock up, and simply would not engage in any discussion about it.  

And we should not try to think that there are no crowd problems in English football.  

When such events happen, it looks to me (as, I should say, a person who has never been involved in such an incident) as if the authorities are simply not prepared for what is happening.

And therein lies a danger, because historically the response of authority, when it is caught out through its own lack of preparedness, is to remove everyone’s freedoms.  As when all the English clubs were banned from Europe, even though only a handful of clubs had a history of crowd problems.

In Switzerland the reality, as my correspondent pointed out, is “if you force games to be played without a crowd, in the end a club will go bust and the players lose their jobs….I’d argue the owners and directors should shoulder responsibility if they do not act.”

Indeed that obviously is a way forward – make the club owners responsible for the behaviour of the fans… except that the club owners have no control over fans outside the stadia, and if the police don’t do enough, or claim they don’t have enough officers to control the situation… then what?  And indeed as in my case, if they simply don’t have a clue as to how to investigate an allegation properly.

More than anything else, we need openness – not just in discussing crowd problems but in relation to all aspects of football, from how PGMO acts, to the way individual fans are treated.

Yet even now, as we know, in England referees are not allowed to speak to anyone and even have a designated car in which they must leave the ground with their designated driver.  No one talks.

But on “Doppelpass”, the Sunday morning talk show on a German TV station, the referee of Herta BSC vs VFL Bochum recently explained how he invalidated a goal from Herta as a result of which Herta lost and were relegated.  He explained what he said to the VAR official, and how the whole process worked out, in complete detail.

Indeed that referee (Felix Brych) recently wrote a book ‘Aus kurzer Distanz‘ where he reports his experiences as a referee… and he is still refereeing in the Bundesliga…

Many football-related problems in England have been solved – but the total inward-looking secrecy and the belief that we are getting it all completely right, that exists within some clubs, and some organisations, does not give me confidence.

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