THE SECRET FOOTBALLER: I worry about Russia. So should English hooligans.

Leicester City’s fans showed that English hooliganism hasn’t gone away. Which is worrying what with the World Cup in Russia coming up next year, writes The Secret Footballer.

ON THE MARCH: Russian hooligans are organised. It's still a popular national pastime. They are on home territory.

It wasn’t exactly the War of Jenkins’ Ear but our boys certainly showed them.

In 1731, poor old Robert Jenkins was happily sailing home to Britain after a spot of smuggling in Jamaica when his boat was stopped and boarded by those pesky, infernal, busybody, EU-loving Spanish types.

It didn’t go well. I imagine the Spaniards stubbornly refused to speak English like proper people should. Anyway Jenkins got tied to his own mast and the Spanish captain took hold of his left Ear and with his Cutlass slit it down, and then another of the Spaniards took hold of it and tore it off, but gave him the Piece of his Ear again.

The Spaniards told Jenkins to tell the King of England that the same would happen to him if he got caught doing the same. The Spaniards also took away Jenkins’ ‘candles and instruments’ but that wasn’t tabloidy enough for anybody to make a fuss over.

Jenkins kept his severed lug afterward, pickling in a jar for many years. Just to be ready when surgical techniques caught up. Eight years later England decided that it had suffered enough. Some populist politicians experienced a sudden sense of outrage that one of our finest smugglers should have had to carry his ear around in a pickle jar. They also figured that a war with Spain would improve Britain’s trading prospects with the Caribbean and would allow Britain to continue selling slaves in south and central America.

So we fought the Spaniards for nine years and now we virtually own the Costa del Sol.

Post-Brexit we are trapped in the same situation and flogging stuff in the Caribbean and selling slaves looks like our best prospect. So after Michael Howard threatened war on Spain the next obvious move was to send some Leicester City fans to Madrid.

They went to the Plaza Mayor, got beered up, made a mess of the place and told the Spaniards in no uncertain terms that a certain big rock which happens to be geologically stuck fast to the southern part of Spain most definitely belongs to Britain. We stole it, so it is ours. That is the law. As the comedian Chris Turner says, possessio is nine-tenths of the word. 

So there.

The world still dances to our tune. Ok maybe sometimes we stride into the lion’s den and expect the big cat to arch its back and rub itself gratefully against our ankles but it turns out that the big cat has long sharp teeth and riot police and suspended sentences. Never mind. Next year it won’t be novice Leicester City fans we will be sending. Chelsea are back in the big time.

It would take a brave Spaniard to threaten to makes tapas out of Prince Charles ears when Chelsea are in town. Those boys are the SAS of hooliganism. They actually have tattoos that say, Who Dares Gets Deported.

I don’t think anybody would have begrudged Leicester City fans their right to enjoy the full European experience by topping off their unlikely Champions League run with a bit of hooliganism. After all what does Leicester City’s success owe to foreigners?

What is a bit depressing is that we don’t seem to learn. Our hooliganism is an expression of our football. It’s enthusiastic and full blooded but it cries out for a bit of imagination and sophistication. We just go there and it “all goes orf” and we come home and moan.

When West Ham qualified for the Europa League they drew the Sicilian side Palermo. Now most people who have read a book think of Sicily and decide to behave themselves. In the Sopranos, Tony and his family came from Avellino (near Naples) but most of the real psychos who were beyond therapy originated from Sicily.

The Hammers fans, oblivious to all cultural references and warnings, advertised the fact by printing up a batch of T-shirts that read “West Ham Vs The Mafia” I know this, because my friend wore one. I worry about him sometimes. Anyway, the West Ham fans duly arrived in Sicily, beerily boarded a bus to Palermo where the bus driver dutifully stopped the bus in the town square. He opened the side doors and looked the other way as almost 100 Palermo fans whipped the shit out of their London counterparts with motorcycle chains.

As my Father used to say, ‘that’ll learn ya!’ (Note to self, when in Sicily don’t poke the Mafia).

It all makes me worry that the World Cup in Russia won’t go as well as we are hoping. Nice Mr Southgate will get our boys through and after a plucky week or two we will suffer the inevitable and heartbreaking defeat to a superpower like Iceland and come home. 

But our hooligans?

Russian hooligans are organised. It’s still a popular national pastime. They are on home territory. There are more of them than there are of us. They don’t understand the gentle humour of being told by Brits that they are shit and they know they are. They are more tactically sophisticated and ruthless and this worries us in England. It worries our media. It isn’t a fair fight. Our boys might get beat.

Our media are steadfastly anti-hooligan until we get beaten badly.

When Manchester United fans were roundly beaten in the stadium by local riot police at their 2007 Champions league match with Roma, the media wept for these poor, law abiding English fans that had been set upon by police, who clubbed them like baby seals being culled.

What wasn’t so widely reported was the spectacle of 70 United fans dressed head-to-toe in black who stormed a bridge in the city and began fighting Roma fans as they sat provocatively drinking wine in their local bars. Four United fans were subsequently given prison sentences of just over two years. Still as an elderly aunt commented when hearing about Brian Keenan and John McCarthy being chained to a radiator in Beirut years ago, at least they had a bit of heat. Russian jails don’t sound so cozy.

I can’t say that in my career I was ever frightened. Well frightened by my own brilliance obviously but not by fans. My bus was only attacked twice (I say ‘my bus’ but I allowed the team to travel with me as is traditional in football.) Once Chelsea fans stormed us as we made our way into Stamford Bridge. Another before one of the countries fiercest derbies when not even a police escort could stop the hoards from smashing windows by hurling anything that they could get their hands on.

But it was expected and kind of boring and not to be critical but I felt that our attackers were just going through the motions.

I worry about Russia though. I don’t think our hooligans have what it takes anymore. I would propose though that we send Kelvin McKenzie of The Sun ahead as our emissary. Go ‘orn Kelvs me old son. If you think you’re ‘ard enough. 

Just don’t forget your typewriter. You’ll need it to hide behind.



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