Spectator sport

Is football hooliganism on its way back?

26 February 2022

9:00 AM

26 February 2022

9:00 AM

Forty-odd years ago a friend, a Liverpool supporter, somewhat unwisely took his girlfriend to Elland Road for a Leeds match against Liverpool. Amid some uproar over the referee, she was hit just above the eye by a sharpened coin chucked by a Leeds fan. The relationship didn’t last, unsurprisingly, but she still has the scar above her right eye. That was in 1982. Four decades on, Leeds fans are still at it — bunging missiles at the opposition. This time at Man U players, who won 4-2 at the weekend.

If Leeds fans had lobbed the odd headless cockerel onto the pitch, as I believe sometimes happens in hotter–tempered countries, as a proper culturally rooted expression of contempt for Manchester Utd and all they stand for, you couldn’t really object. But this other stuff — coins, lighters, bottles — is pure hooliganism.

It has never been a place to linger, Elland Road, but now it’s not looking much like a place to enter in the first place. Leeds seem to be promising a campaign to raise ‘awareness’, but quite how much awareness you need to have raised to work out that it’s psychopathic behaviour to hurl a dangerous weapon like a sharpened coin is difficult to quantify. I have no idea why Elland Road isn’t closed to fans for three games, maybe more: that would teach people to behave. It’s not hard to stop this kind of thing if you really want to.

For too long football’s governing bodies and much of the media have bought into the myth of the mighty supporter: ‘We are the fans, we are the lifeblood of the game and we can say and do what we like.’ Now a nastiness seems once more to be simmering below the surface of English football, fuelled by cocaine and booze. We saw it last summer at Wembley for the final of the Euros, when coked-up thugs forced disabled people out of their seats.

It’s the same with all sports — the marketing people and advertisers would have you believe that big events are more fun if you’re off your face, but how much more pleasant to be at a big cricket game with a bunch of happy Asian fans than a lot of sozzled blokes dressed as Disney characters forming a conga line and falling over. TV tries to tell us it’s great: it’s rubbish. None of this, though, should get in the way of the pleasures of real fandom: award of the week must go to Newcastle supporters who took inflatable cats along to greet Kurt Zouma at their West Ham game.

Beethoven’s ‘Ode to Joy’ is a mighty tune, but it’s had to do some heavy lifting in its time, from Argos ads to the European Union anthem, and now for the closing ceremony in the Winter Olympics. If you like a good blub (and who doesn’t?) it was lovely as all these great athletes, still masked up, danced around joyfully in the Olympic Stadium.

The dominant image of the Games, though, might be Russia’s glamour-puss skating coach Eteri Tutberidze bawling out poor Kamila Valieva, who had crashed in the figure–skating final amid the furore over her failed drug test. Tutberidze has offered the chilling judgment that ‘With each gram of weight, a gram of laziness is added’. I’m not sure you would want her to be coaching your daughter.

Then there’s the heroism of the Finnish cross-country skier Remi Lindholm, aka the Man With the Frozen Penis. Lindholm braved the howling winds and -17˚C temperature on the 30km course in just his skin-thin racing suit. By the end the cold had taken a grip just where a man wouldn’t want it. As he thawed out after the race, said Lindholm, ‘The pain was unbearable’. That I can believe. Winter climbing once in north Wales, I lost a glove halfway up. At the top all I could do was roll around in the snow whimpering for the pain to end as the blood slowly returned. And that was just my hand. Poor Remi.

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