Narinder Singh is the Deputy Chairman of Harborough Conservatives.
“Are you sure you want to go to the England games – why don’t you just watch them on TV?”, asked family members when I told them I was going to Wembley. Not because they thought we might lose (though, sadly, we did on Sunday), but because of what they had heard and seen about England fans over the years.
So, having fortuitously obtained a ticket for England v Germany, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t go to the game with a degree of trepidation – particularly as my friends were sat elsewhere in the stadium, since we had bought our tickets individually.
By the time the tournament had ended, I’d been to four games in all: England’s semi-final against Denmark, plus our final against Italy, as well as Italy’s semi-final against Spain. What followed was one of the biggest rollercoasters of emotions I’d ever experienced.
Let’s start with the lows. Those who issued racist abuse to Saka, Rashford or Sancho are scumbags and, as Harry Kane rightly said, not England fans. Every nation has racists, and always will – but they do not and never will speak for the millions of England fans across the country, and the thousands who sang their hearts out at Wembley. Gareth Southgate himself has alluded to some of these tweets coming from overseas – and time will tell whether or not this was so.
On a happier note, not once did I have any uncomfortable moments at Wembley; indeed, I had the opposite experience. Making friends with strangers in the crowd and cheering together was an experience that I’ll never forget.
There are some other points to address, too. About a hundred people attempted to break into the stadium without a ticket. While they represented a tiny fraction of the thousands who travelled to Wembley without one to experience the atmosphere, they could harm our World Cup bid for 2030: their behaviour is inexcusable.
One of the videos circulating on social media after the game showed some of the England fans (with tickets) inside the stadium, tackling those who had forced entry. This same video has since been widely circulated to suggest that the incident was an attack on Italian fans (it wasn’t), and also a racially motivated attack, since one of those who broke in and attacked was Asian. Now I’m not condoning the fans who took the law into their own hands, but these false narratives only sow further divisions.
Another widely circulated post showed a group of Polish fans from a previous tournament attacking a fan, alongside some completely fabricated statistics about the number of people of colour stabbed that night. It was a bit of a giveaway that their t-shirts said ‘POLSKA’ on the front.
Misleading claims have also been made about the treatment of national anthems. We’re led to believe English fans are the only ones who boo them: having sat amongst Italians for their semi-final, I can categorically say that this isn’t true.
Gary Neville made the point on Twitter that England’s national anthem is routinely booed at away games – not so much as a xenophobic gesture, but to unsettle the players.
While I didn’t jeer any of the anthems for the games I was at, I agree with him. A minority may choose to boo while most stand in silence (or applaud, as some did for Italy on Sunday) but, again, there have been attempts that only England fans behave in this way.
There are parallels with the knee debate. Yes, I heard some boos, but I also saw most people stand respectfully in silence (as is custom at league games), or applaud.
Are England fans perfect? No. But are club fans perfect either? No. Some of the problems complained of – rubbish-strewn streets, excess drinking and yobbish behaviour happen routinely at a domestic level. Where there are genuine issues such as racism or breaking into the stadium, they need to be addressed – while also remembering that these actions do not represent 99 per cent of England fans across the country, or those at Wembley over recent weeks.
A tiny number of people, whether UK-based or overseas, can change the narrative about football supporters, because it’s easy to set up profiles on social media. There is no credible verification – so, until that changes, people will be able to set up profiles without worrying about the consequences.
Hopefully, most people continue to see that the overwhelming majority of England fans simply want to support their country. Sunday was painful for lots of reasons, but let’s not allow false narratives and the actions of a few to set the agenda.