by Jonathan Lee
After the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia, England football fans had enjoyed a slightly improved reputation internationally for behaving themselves a bit better at away games in Europe. This illusion was shattered last week in Portugal for all the world to see, as boozy lads in shorts and polos attacked locals with bottles, wrecked cars, and clashed with police on the streets of Porto. It turns out that, without Russian ultras and law enforcement to keep them in line, England’s lads-on-tour stag party of intolerance and imperialist nostalgia is just as present in the travelling fan culture as it always has been. Embedded homophobia, a staple of the hooligan culture of old, also reared its ugly head again in Portugal with some England fans feeling unsafe among their own supporters.
“I experienced more homophobia in 3 hours here than I did in 3 weeks in Russia,” said Joe White, an English football fan and co-founder of LGBT+ supporters group Three Lions Pride. “And this has all come from England fans” he added. “LGBT+ is clearly not welcome.”
straight English fans also invaded gay clubs in Porto where gay fans and locals alike were made to feel unwelcome
Last week’s UEFA Nations League Finals saw over 18,000 England fans travel to Portugal’s second city Porto and the small nearby city of Guimarães. English LGBT+ fans said they did not feel safe on the streets and were subjected to open hostility by fans, some of whom were also seen intimidating and hurling misogynistic abuse at passing women. Three Lions Pride fans were told they didn’t belong there, were called “poof”, “faggot”, and told to “fuck off home”. Other gay fans were targeted by hordes of England fans chanting “does your boyfriend know you’re here?” as they tried to board trains away from Guimarães after one of the games.
With many bars packed out, straight English fans also invaded gay clubs in Porto where gay fans and locals alike were made to feel unwelcome. Here they continued their routine of hoisting English flags, singing far-right chants, and leering aggressively at bar staff.
Increasingly at England games it is difficult to separate the far-right activity from the boorish lad culture of away days, with many far-right chants and slogans becoming mainstreamed into the fan culture. Before the Netherlands vs England match in Guimarães, Joe from Three Lions Pride was accosted by a visibly drunk fan who accused him of “discriminating against England fans”. Joe was giving an interview to a local TV station about problems with the far-right influence amongst the travelling fans. Gesturing to the mob of England fans all crouched down, arms outstretched, singing ‘10 German bombers in the air’ the man said “we’ve done no harm, we’ve done nothing wrong”. The chant in question is condemned as xenophobic and offensive by the English Football Association, who banned several fans in 2017 for singing the song against Germany during a friendly in Dortmund.
England fan culture is the perfect atmosphere for spreading far-right sentiment
Feeling ‘discriminated against’ is certainly a common theme which intersects people on the far-right, straight white men, and many England fans. All of them feel like they are being picked on: by the media, minorities, women, gays, the police, the politicians – you name it. And out of all of them far-right Islamophobe-in-Chief Tommy Robinson is the biggest martyr to the cause.
Tommy Robinson (real name Stephen Yaxley-Lennon) repeatedly claims victimhood to a conspiracy orchestrated by the government and mainstream media to silence him from spewing his hatred-inciting nonsense. His self-pitying, dying martyr routine is repeated across the far-right spectrum, from Breitbart to Donald Trump. It is a clever tactic used by fascists to make themselves out as the plucky underdog, whilst in reality they can use their privilege and relative strength to victimise the vulnerable. Robinson demonstrated this when he turned up at the first England game in Guimarães last week. A video was published of him punching an English fan and charity worker to the ground for challenging him and saying “you do not represent me.” Robinson later appeared on his Telegram channel complaining of the constant verbal abuse he had to suffer from ‘idiots’ while he was in Portugal, and bemoaning the mainstream media for misrepresenting the situation where he decided he had to pre-emptively defend himself and his wife. Fans were heard singing Tommy Robinson’s name on the streets and in bars on numerous occasions alongside other chants linked to the far-right, such as “No surrender” and “fuck the pope and the IRA”. Whilst extreme-right Tommy supporters are in the minority of England fans, there is no denying that his laddish cult of personality has found fertile breeding ground amidst the thousands of away day England regulars.
England fan culture is the perfect atmosphere for spreading far-right sentiment. The problem is not just with the minority who cause trouble, it is with the whole mentality of the travelling culture. A culture which sees England fans ‘occupy’ the town centres of foreign cities. Where thousands of predominantly young, male, inebriated fans of a nation which has yet to overcome its post-imperial hangover invade piazzas across Europe. They festoon trees and lampposts with flags emblazoned with minor club names, dress up as crusader knights, and sing jingoistic songs which attack local cultures and religion. These are aimed at inciting a reaction, but invariably it is the England fans themselves who are wound up by their own alcohol-fuelled, nationalistic fever, resulting in antisocial behaviour, racism, and homophobia.
This is not an issue it seems with football fans who are English, but with football fans who support England. Less than a week before the Nations League Finals in Portugal, over 100,000 Liverpool and Tottenham fans travelled to Madrid for the Champions League Final where they were praised for creating a wonderful atmosphere in the city and causing minimal trouble with the police. The problem exists within the travelling fan culture of the England National Team, large parts of which are influenced and directed by the far-right. Whilst violence is carried out by only a small minority, the atmosphere which tolerates and breeds this violence is created by a much larger number of fans at England games. Most of the time this manifests as embarrassing episodes of petty vandalism, xenophobia, and colonial arrogance, but this atmosphere also allows darker far-right political sentiments to emerge. It allows islamophobia to flourish, it allows misogyny and sexual assault to become commonplace, and in Portugal it caused LGBT+ England fans to feel unwelcome and unsafe amongst their own supporters.
There are glimpses of hope of course. A crowd of England fans raised around €300 for a busker in Porto. A few others helped with the clean-up, picking up litter the morning after the final. In Guimarães, locals lined the route from the stadium to the train station while England fans processed through the town chanting “Obrigado [thank you], obrigado Portugal!” But these small incidents are overshadowed by the mindless violence, hyper-masculine antisocial behaviour, and nativist far-right sentiments which plague England away games. Until the English FA and UEFA take a firmer stance against this intolerance, more and more ordinary fans will decide to forgo attending games. The only winners will be far-right hatemongers like Tommy Robinson and his lads, who will continue to gain an ever stronger foothold amongst fans, ruining the game for everybody.
All images by Jonathan Lee
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