wembley euro 2020

Hooliganism Still Alive and Well in British Fan Culture

We’re now a week removed from the Euro 2020 Final at Wembley, and yet the events of last Sunday are still a major talking point in the British news media. 

Unfortunately, it’s not the game itself that’s being discussed. Instead more tales of hooliganism, violence, fans breaking into the stadium and social media racism are forming the main discussion points. 

As more people come forward, the events that marred what was meant to be a monumental day for English soccer are still being dissected. Why was the security so lax? Did the London Met Police force do enough to quell the crowds’ behavior? And perhaps most importantly, is it finally time social media companies do more to tackle racist abuse carried out through their platforms? 

A Day of Celebration Turned Ugly

Win or lose, it was meant to be a day of celebration for England and the City of London, however, according to eyewitnesses, it turned sour pretty quickly. Some fans gathered and began to drink alcohol around Wembley Stadium and in downtown London as early as 8:30am. Many eyewitnesses have reported sensing what has been described as a “hostile atmosphere” around the stadium from 2pm onwards. 

As the day progressed and the 8pm kick-off time grew closer, the hostile atmosphere only continued to grow. Missiles being thrown in the form of bottles and beer cans was common practice throughout the city, while regular fights were breaking out amongst England fans and there were alleged cases of Italian fans being attacked. In one instance, a woman reported falling victim to a “serious sexual assault.”

Parents who took their kids to the game told of how their children were frightened and felt unsafe. Some decided to call it a day and take the kids home, while others persevered solely due to the money they had spent and the historic grandeur of the occasion.

Ticketless Fans Storm the Gates of Wembley

While such scenes are not as frequent and commonplace as they were during the hooligan heyday of English soccer in the 1980s, the scenes of drunk behavior, violence, and a building mob mentality isn’t something that we haven’t seen before. What was perhaps more shocking was the ticketless fans storming the gates of Wembley to try and get into the game – with thousands thought to have done so successfully. 

Around 4pm London time, four hours to go until the game kicked off, online videos started to emerge appearing to show some ticketless fans running into the stadium after breaching a barrier. Despite the hard evidence, a spokesperson for the security at Wembley at first released a statement denying that any ticketless fans had made it inside the stadium. However, they later had to acknowledge that there had at least been a “minor breach”.

With a police presence seemingly lacking, the security became overwhelmed as baying mobs of ticketless fans ran past them. Many ticked fans already inside the stadium took it upon themselves to eject those without tickets vigilante-style, causing more violent scenes. 

An Organized Breach of the Wembley Gates

In the immediate aftermath of the Euro 2020 final, most thought that the ticketless fans choosing to breach the stadium had been committing spontaneous and opportunistic acts. However, over the last week, we have learned that that most definitely wasn’t the case. A large number of ticketless fans who succeeded in breaking into the stadium without getting caught have come forward anonymously to speak to various media outlets. 

While some may have followed the crowd, sensing an opportunity, the initial breaches of the Wembley gates were most definitely organized. One person told of how ticketless fans were organizing themselves in a group via the communication app Telegram, alerting each other to gates that could easily be broken into, or security guards who were accepting bribes. 

Questions Asked About the Lack of a Police Presence and Security

With a strong police presence seemingly lacking, the bulk of the security was left up to the security stewards at Wembley Stadium, most of whom are paid the UK minimum wage of £8.10 ($11.16). It then comes as little surprise to find out that these employees were unwilling to put their bodies on the line for their job, or that they were accepting bribes. One security guard has told of how he was threatened with a knife, while most of the ticketless fans who have spoken to the media have admitted to giving security guards bribes of up to £100 ($140) to let them in.

Players Families Affected by the Violent Fans

One of the gates that was successfully breached by the mob, was the one commonly used by the families and friends of the players, as well as other “high profile” ticket holders. The families of multiple players of the England team told of how they arrived to find other people occupying their seats, in some cases refusing to move. The father of England defender Harry Maguire reportedly had his ribs broken following an attack from some of the violent hooligans. 

The Aftermath – Online Racial Abuse

The ugliness that shamed and marred what was meant to be a grand occasion for English soccer didn’t stop with the violent scenes in and around Wembley Stadium and downtown London. The final itself was ultimately decided by a penalty shootout, which Italy won, following misses from Marcus Rashford, Bakayo Saka, and Jadon Sancho. Within an hour of the game’s conclusion, all three players had received a barrage of racist abuse online. 

The Questions That Need to be Answered:

Should Social Media Companies Do More?

In England and the UK in general, the entire Premier League season has been marred with countless reports of players receiving racist abuse online. While this has been an issue since the ruse of social media within our society, it has ramped up over the past 18 months. With the Covid-19 pandemic prevent fans from entering stadiums, many have taken to social media platforms to vent their frustrations. 

It has been a fierce subject of debate in England, with many high-profile figures imploring the social media companies to do more. Among the biggest proponents has been former Arsenal star and French international Theirry Henry, who led a social media blackout to draw attention to the issue. The general consensus seems to be that social media platforms should verify the identity and addresses of all their users, by requiring people to sign up with a driving license, passport or another form of official government-issued documentation. 

Would Have Allowing A Full Capacity Crowd Have Prevented the Stadium Breach?

60,000 tickets were sold for the Euro 2020 final, 30,000 short of the stadium’s overall capacity. A great number of ticketless fans have cited the fact that they knew there would be empty seats as their reason for breaking in. Questions are now being asked about whether or not a sold-out crowd would have deterred the ticketless fans from deciding to storm the gates of Wembley. 

Let us know your thoughts via Twitter @ theSFjournal!

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