The slide in standards inside and outside football stadia since supporters returned post-lockdown is not a return to the dark days of the 80s – nowhere near – but the pattern is unsettling. The missiles lobbed at Manchester United players at Elland Road on Sunday – including the one which connected with Anthony Elanga’s head – were just the latest examples.
Last month Burnley defender Matt Lowton needed treatment after being floored by a coke bottle thrown at him at Leeds. Aston Villa’s Lucas Digne and Matty Cash were both struck by bottles thrown by Everton fans at Goodison Park.
It isn’t just footballers as coconut shies.
A Leicester City thug invaded the pitch at the City Ground to attack Nottingham Forest players. Rotherham United banned two supporters who came on to attack an Accrington Stanley player after the award of a contentious penalty.
These are all isolated incidents perpetrated by a minority of idiots but put together they make for a disturbing trend.
The latest figures show incidents of disorder at games are up 36 per cent on the 2019-20 season. Arrests have gone up as well by 47 per cent in the same period.
Everyone yearned for the return of fans to deserted, atmosphere-free stadiums during lockdown but be careful what you wish for.
It took a huge police operation, the biggest in Premier League history, to contain the potential for violence at the Leeds-Manchester United game. Nine arrests ended up being made.
Maybe that is a one-off fixture in terms as a magnet for trouble but there has been sufficient evidence elsewhere of an escalating situation for English clubs to launch an urgent review.
Of particular alarm to the authorities is the age profile of those involved. Some are barely teenagers. There was a report recently at Derby County of a 14-year-old punching a police officer in the face.
What is going on here? Is the phenomenon a temporary cork-out-of-the-bottle craziness now that freedoms have been restored?
Is the cocaine epidemic which has turned the toilets at some stadiums into odorous pharmacies to blame? Drugs, alcohol included, certainly alter behaviour.
Is it merely a reflection of a slump in standards and decency across society? 21st century anomie?
Whatever the explanation it makes for a terrible selling point when the country is trying to land a major tournament. The UK and Ireland’s bid to stage Euro 2028 is in danger of being derailed by deteriorating fan behaviour.
Everyone is welcome to our cross-continental football party – only take care that you don’t get glassed on the way out.
This is a UK and Ireland bid and it would be wrong to tar all supporters with the same brush. The vast majority across all the nations are there for the game and know how to conduct themselves.
But as was so eloquently illustrated at Wembley at last July’s Euros final, there remains an English underclass for whom football is a vehicle for anarchy.
The mayhem that night could so easily have brought tragedy with the ticketless surge into the ground. That it did not was down to luck.
Thousands of yobs, gathered supposedly to celebrate England’s appearance in a major final but in reality there to do as they damn well pleased with a bellyful of strong lager and a head-full of white powder inside them.
The event was badly policed and the stewarding inadequate but ultimately behaviour is a personal responsibility and there are too many in our midst who cannot be relied upon to do the right thing.
Initially the UK and Ireland plan was to run for the 2030 World Cup. That plan was quietly shelved when it became obvious there was no chance of winning.
The switch to the 2028 Euros pits us against Turkey plus a joint bid from Greece, Serbia, Bulgaria and Romania.
The opposition ranks could be swelled before next month’s deadline by others, possibly from Russia and maybe a dual Spain/Portugal bid if they switch horses from the 2030 World Cup.
When all the runners and riders are assembled, a final decision will be made in September 2023.
So the UK and Ireland – or more specifically England – has 18 months to put its hooligan house in order. If it cannot do so, the bid should be withdrawn.
We can happily live without the shame and embarrassment of staging a carnival where the guests arrive in fear.
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