I couldn’t watch the Euro final. Neil put it on as we were getting breakfast. England were already in the lead and the crowd were vocal. With my back to the TV I could tell when Italy got the ball because the booing was louder than the cheering. It reminded me too much of the worst side of football and, annoyed, I turned it off at half-time when Neil went to work.
The only time booing is acceptable is at a pantomime, that peculiarly English theatre tradition where characters are larger than life, caricatures if you like, and the acting is deliberately over the top. Men play women; women play men. The main character is a hero who always gets the girl; the villain always gets his comeuppance. There is no violence except the cartoonish or slapstick sort. The audience is encouraged to boo to warn the hero each time the villain appears on stage, usually lurking behind him. I suppose this could give children the wrong idea, so it falls to parents and responsible adults to explain that this is a show, and it’s all part of the game. It’s not part of the game if that game is a sporting event, at which booing is never acceptable.
I followed online, knew it went to extra time, declined a friend’s invitation to delay our coffee meeting. Halfway through she checked her phone and casually announced: ‘By the way, they lost.’ I had to laugh, at the same time grateful I wasn’t the shirt-tearing type when my team don’t win. To be fair to her she’s a Scot so couldn’t give two hoots (mon) whether England won or didn’t. I got on with the rest of my day and, as I often do, watched the news later.
I’d hoped, foolishly, that the end of the dream was just that. I’d forgotten how hell hath no fury like a certain type of English football fan scorned. I watched in horror at grown men flinging fists at security guards, at people wearing blue t-shirts running to escape a beating from crazed idiots. I spoke about passion in my last piece and I know how devastated some will be that it all fell apart at the end. But that doesn’t make it okay to go out looking for a fight. And, let’s put it into perspective – it’s just a game. A dream died, not a living creature. I’m all for national pride – I’m proud to be both English and Kiwi – but national pride doesn’t mean thumping another human just because their team beat yours.
It speaks to the intolerance of some English for anything different, anything outside of what a small subset considers to be their normal. It’s the same mindset that they take overseas with them, enjoying the sun but declining to engage in the local community, searching out English food, not even attempting to speak the language. It’s the ex-pat sitting in the shade with their G+T, moaning how hot it is and shouting at the locals to hurry up and bring them more ice, complaining how everything smells of curry.
It couldn’t get any worse, I thought. Foolish again. How quickly can someone go from being a hero to becoming a victim of some of the worst verbal abuse you can imagine? Pretty quickly, it appears, if your skin isn’t pale. I’ve never been racially abused but I wouldn’t be: I’m white. New Zealand is referred to as a racist country and I’m not denying that because I’ve seen the reports of those who have suffered it. I’ve never witnessed it, and I’ve never heard anything reported like the vehemence of the abuse three young men who played their hearts out for their country have just been subject to.
I am by no means tarring all my fellow countrymen with the same brush here and, thankfully, the response has been heartening. Many more have retaliated with kindness and positivity than struck out with hatred and anger, and that makes me proud to be English. But, at the end of the day, they shouldn’t have had to. It simply shouldn’t have happened in the first place.