What an awful week for English international football. We had ‘roofgate’ and we had an abysmal display the following day, lacking pretty much any positives apart from a fortunate point, but both of these pale in significance to the horrendous scenes of last Tuesday night in Serbia.
Football is a wonderful sport that transcends language, culture and is often seen as a way of crossing boundaries around the globe, bringing everybody together for 90 minutes of collective emotions and passion. It provides a common ground in which people can enjoy the company of complete strangers whilst they watch or play the beautiful game. What happened last Tuesday shone a spotlight on what has become an increasingly worrying trend in some sectors of Europe. Football is being used as a vehicle in order to express some hateful, ignorant and horrific ideals and values.
In the build up to Euro 2012 this issue reared its ugly head and people were forced to take notice of the growing problems. These fears were recognised as Polish fans beat up 50 fans outside a pub, targeting English and Russian speaking fans. There was also the issue of the Holland players being subjected to monkey chants during a training session. In 2012 this is a ridiculous problem to have to face and the widespread ignorance often surpasses the role of ‘minority spoiling it for everyone else’ and become the majority sector amongst fans, such as the case in Serbia.
In England we have had singled out cases of racism with Terry’s case and Suarez’s case respectively. Both of these issues have been covered to death and I won’t go into detail, but there are a number of issues to address on our own shores. My focus though, is on the horrific assault faced by our England U21s. The important nature of the game, even if it was the Under 21s could have led us to expect a hostile atmosphere, but none could have predicted the scenes that took place. Firstly, the initial condemnation must be towards the Serbian fans. There is no excuse for the continued racist monkey chanting that was inflicted upon England’s black players and that alone warrants action from FIFA as a governing body. This was then escalated to violence as fans hurled rocks and even a seat at England’s goalkeeper Jack Butland, incidents which could have led less thick skinned players to refuse to play. I’m not sure I would carry on in those conditions and well done to the England players for carrying themselves with dignity and maturity beyond their years for the way they reacted throughout the whole debate.
After the game, when fans invaded the pitch, I expected both teams to unite against the reckless stupidity of those fans, but this was not the case. Serbian players and coaching staff were as much of a disgrace as those fans. The way they harassed and attacked the English players and staff was inexcusable and warrants a ban FIFA, ignoring anything done by the fans. I have never been more infuriated at watching a television screen as I was that night and I’ve taken time to collect my thoughts before sharing them in this blog. FIFA must step in and hand a hefty ban to the Serbian FA of at least one tournament if there is a lesson to be learned. The £16500 fine that was handed out for the incidents of 2007 were trivial at best and an example must be made in order to ensure that such disgusting events don’t take place again.
Personally, I don’t think the punishment will fit the crime and when it is announced there will be an uproar that will fall upon deaf ears. FIFA must be strong. Blatter must finally do something of use, rather than remain the laughing stock he has become and he must be backed up with UEFA continuing any sanctions in future at both club and international level. If this disease is to be rid from our beautiful game for good an example must be made, the bar must be set and the sanctions in place must be repeated across the board for such ignorant, racist and violent acts in the future.