The report which came out today described the football fans who stormed Wembley for England penalty shootout loss to Italy as “drugged up thugs”. The report continues by saying “a horde of ticketless, drunken and drugged up thugs who chose to abuse innocent, vulnerable and disabled people, as well as police officers, volunteers and Wembley staff.”

I appreciate this seems like a chance for a Welshman to dig the England fans a little, and I assure that’s not the case. I want to make one thing abundantly clear though. The behaviour and actions of those who stormed the gates and got into the group was unacceptable. Around 2,000 people got in to the ground and managed to watch the game. To behave in such a manner undermines those who got tickets in the correct manner and acted in an appropriate and genuine way, whilst an historic football match was going on. 

Someone needs to explain this section of the report to me though: “We are genuinely lucky that there was not much more serious injury or worse, and need to take the toughest possible action against people who think a football match is somehow an excuse to behave like that.”

I reiterate that those who behaved in the way they did is simply wrong and shouldn’t have happened. I will also add to this that a similar thing was attempted in the semi final. It seems no extra measures were taken. To describe the stewards as “vulnerable” is wholly wrong. They are paid to do a job. Using the excuse that they didn’t receive enough training because of Covid is a huge organisational failure. Especially when you consider the staggering admission that the police deployment arrived “too late”. 

I cannot accept, despite my dislike of England football fans which I won’t try to hide, that one group of 2,000 people are solely responsible. I’ve seen a lot of international football, and the England and Russians are comfortably the most aggressive and unpleasant fans I’ve come across. I say this as I attempt to offer a relative defence of the fans. Not to these 2,000 but the other fans who will continue to get tarred with that same brush. 

Whilst the report mentions a “collective failure”, it’s interesting to me that the media focus and narrative is based on drugged up thugs. 

Why is there no a bigger mention of the police deployment “turning up late”? That’s absolutely unacceptable. Wrong. Stupid. Dangerous. Why is the acknowledgement that 25,000 empty seats could cause issues, not more than just a sentence? The report concludes with “I am clear that the primary responsibility lies with those who lost control of their own behaviour”. 

Make no mistake, there are people there who lost control of their own behaviour. There were undoubtedly drugs and alcohol involved. It was unacceptable. At some point though, the narrative of how football fans are perceived needs to change. The role of our media in that needs to change. The role of those in power needs to change because they need accept responsibility for their actions. 

For example, how on earth was that game allowed to kick off at its set time? Of the 2,000 people who entered the stadium, one of them could have had a gun, an explosive device, a knife and caused major harm to thousands of innocent people. The people in charge made that decision. They risked the lives of those inside the stadium that day. A police deployment turning up late to an event as big and potentially combustible as that is wildly wrong. Why is that not the headline news? That the organisers of a major sporting event wilfully gambled that one of those 2,000 people wouldn’t commit a terrorist act, is not headline grabbing is baffling. 

This is a political act not a footballing one and the mention of alcohol and drugs is utterly irrelevant. Its an excuse to further clamp down of football fans in the uk as they’re seen, often unjustly, as a menace. Last week at a Welsh rugby international, a child was vomited on by a fan. A fan broke onto the field of play during the game and as he was being dragged away had beer thrown at him and the stewards might I add, and has later found mild online notoriety as it was done for a £20 bet. I saw no such fury from BBC Sport or whoever. Why is that? It’s because the narrative around football is hooliganism and the narrative around rugby is gentlemanly. Family day out. I’ve seen more trouble in pubs and bars on rugby international day in Cardiff that I’ve ever seen at a big football match. I’ve heard more racism in stands at rugby than I’ve ever heard at football. That’s not to say football doesn’t have an issue – it does. I’m saying that the way it’s portrayed is very different. Both in the media and from an authoritative point of view. 

Football has its problems. And in my view football is making steps to resolve some of them. Football hooligans still exist but they are the minority not the majority. Has anyone in a position of power ever thought to themselves, what can we do to make things better, not punish people who aren’t part of the problem? Until it does, things will never get better. Equally, at what point should others accept their role of responsibility in such a big and potentially disruptive environment. 

It can’t always be the football fans fault. And whilst it is, those of us who are law abiding sensible fans who enjoy football for what it is, will continue to get tarred with the same hooligans brush whilst others who contribute to these situations and issues escape any sort of recriminations. It’s wrong and it needs addressing. 

Dai Rees