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Another sorry outbreak of the English disease

Published: 17 June 2004

Of all England's exports to Europe, few have been quite so unwelcome as football hooliganism

Of all England's exports to Europe, few have been quite so unwelcome as football hooliganism. And it seems that the old English disease has broken out on the Continent once again, despite assiduous efforts by the Government and the Football Association to stop trouble-makers travelling to the European Championships in Portugal. In the small hours of Tuesday and Wednesday morning, in a scene reminiscent of past competitions, Portuguese police found themselves fighting it out with drunken English football fans in the town of Albufeira, in the Algarve region. More than 40 Britons have been arrested, and there are fears the England team could be ejected from the championships if the violence continues.

But it is important to keep a couple of things in mind when dealing with the phenomenon of English football hooliganism. First of all, these trouble-makers are by no means representative of all England fans. Some 40,000 have travelled to Portugal to enjoy the championships and most have behaved impeccably. Only a few hundred were actually involved in skirmishes with the police. What we are dealing with is a small number of violent individuals who, like parasites, hide in larger groups of supporters.

Second, it is questionable to what extent such hooligans are actually football fans at all. This week's trouble took place 300km from where the England team has been playing. The Algarve has been popular with English holiday-makers for decades. The drama of England's match against France on Sunday may have intensified the atmosphere, but what we have really seen this week is drunken louts on a holiday rampage. It is as mundane as that.

Thankfully, Uefa, who run the championships, seem to accept this and do not intend to punish the England team itself, although that could change if violence breaks out at an England match, or around a stadium where they are playing. For the sake of real England fans out in Portugal, and the Algarve locals who have had to tolerate this uncivilised behaviour, let's hope we have seen the last of this thuggery so we can get back to enjoying the football again.

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