By Mark Payne
As has been noted recently, English fans look back on Euro 96 with a sepia-tinted nostalgia that bears only a passing resemblance to events which took place on football fields that summer. Just two days into this European Championships and the English fans have already shamed the country on the international stage. This is an all too familiar story for some of us.
As England were hosts to Euro 96, their lead up campaign consisted of a series of meaningless friendlies against half-baked opponents. One of these was against Switzerland in 1995 at the Old Wembley. The match finished 1-1, England’s goal scored by Steve Stone, and I was in attendance.
As a keen match-going teenager at that time, I had been to many grounds with United, including Stamford Bridge and Upton Park, but the atmosphere at Wembley that day stood out as particularly bad. There was racism and there was unnecessary aggression that, frankly, is not commonplace at Old Trafford.
And it was a meaningless friendly.
The following summer I was caught up in the atmosphere of the tournament as everyone else was. I even attended the semi-final where hearts were broken. But my decision had been made. It was United for me and England, as a football team, were always an afterthought.
Events this weekend in Marseille have been deeply depressing. Proceedings and reports strongly suggest that the Russian fans were the aggressors but it would surprise me greatly in the English fans were 100% innocent. My apologies to anyone that offends.
The timing of this could not be worse. With the Brexit vote looming and tensions around immigration and violence in France particularly high, this is almost the worst possible moment for people to behave like idiots.
It should also be mentioned that Marseille is not really the place to be throwing punches. That is a tough old town, which has been dealing with cocky visitors from afar for a millennia or two. When people complain about the aggressions of the local police it is hard to sympathise.
It is notable that England haven’t won a major tournament for fifty years when you consider their footballing pedigree. When you look at how the supporters behave though, it is fair to say that we, as a nation, probably don’t deserve it either.
When it comes to the how best to enjoy the game we invented, the English are the losers every time. A glance at the conduct of Spanish and Brazilian fans is eye opening. The can party without things descending into mindless parochial violence.
Perhaps the combination of England, Russia and Marseille was a little too pugnacious from the outset. A bit like putting Mike Tyson and a swarm of bees in a vipers’ nest. Nonetheless, this has happened far too many times now.
It is our national shame. Still.
Mark is the author of Fergie’s Last Stand, just £4 this June
Follow him on www.twitter.com/markjpayne