‘No fair play, we’re English’: Europe’s press reacts to Euro 2020 chaos

The disorder that scarred England’s defeat by Italy met a scathing reaction across the continent

Police officers walk through Wembley Way ahead of the Euro 2020 final between England and Italy. Photograph: Alex Pantling/Getty Images

Police officers walk through Wembley Way ahead of the Euro 2020 final between England and Italy. Photograph: Alex Pantling/Getty Images

 

The booing of visiting teams’ national anthems, footage of fans without tickets breaking through barriers to get into Wembley and the online racist abuse of England’s unlucky penalty-takers has made many commentators in continental Europe question notions of English fair play.

“Where have the much-vaunted English qualities of fair play, respect and decency gone?” asked the French daily Libération. In an editorial, the newspaper’s foreign editor, Sonia Delesalle-Stolper, wrote: “The England team’s defeat has been sad for the players and for supporters who were enthused by this young, talented team representing a vibrant and diverse nation.

“Victory would have been beautiful, but this defeat, this violence and racism, put the finger on a bitter truth. How to make oneself hated by all? Through these images, of a minority, certainly, but of a minority that is noisy, too visible and too tolerated. Alcohol does not explain everything.”

As the celebrations over Italy’s victory died down, the Italian press on Tuesday reflected on the violence and racism that marred the aftermath of the final, with La Repubblica describing Sunday night as “the darkest in English football”. Under the headline “No fair play, we’re English”, La Stampa’s Elena Stancanelli said the online racism against black players showed that England “has not learnt how to react to defeat”.

“Fights, howls, maskless crowds and racist slurs in the homeland of fair play,” read a headline in Il Sole 24 Ore. “We came back from London with contradictory feelings,” the article said. “The cup was in the suitcase . . . but our gaze remained on what was happening around us, before and after the final.”

The fact that England was hosting the final of a pan-European tournament, as well as its bid to co-host a World Cup with the Ireland in 2030, meant organisation around the Euro 2020 final and the behaviour of English fans were under intense scrutiny.

“There were only 1,500 fans from Italy – normally it is a third [of the crowd]”, said ethnologist Wolfgang Kaschuba on Germany’s Deutschlandfunk radio. “This balance of power should have obliged an elegant, cool and friendly host to deal with the situation fairly”.

England fans clash with police in Piccadilly Circus after Italy beat England on penalties at Wembley. Photograph: Victoria Jones/PA Wire
England fans clash with police in Piccadilly Circus after Italy beat England on penalties at Wembley. Photograph: Victoria Jones/PA Wire

Instead, wrote the Swiss tabloid Blick, “the English didn’t just lose a penalty shootout on Sunday . . . Because of the behaviour of some of their fans, the Three Lions also have to wave goodbye to a lot of respect from the rest of Europe”.

A reporter for the German broadsheet Die Zeit criticised the policing in and around the stadium. “That hundreds of fans ran over security guards to storm the stadium because they didn’t have a ticket was not only stupid, it was dangerous,” wrote Christian Spiller in an article simply headlined “Just embarrassing”. Spiller questioned why there had not been better security measures in a country that has been aware of the risks of overcrowding since the Hillsborough disaster.

“Of course, it was a minority that booed or fought or racially abused their own players,” wrote Spiller. “But even a minority can be a lot. Especially when they are loud and radical. Viewed from a distance, British national chauvinism has been more visible at this tournament than England’s progressive side. In the end it was the English fans who left us with the worst memories of these Euros.”

Süddeutsche Zeitung went further, directly linking scenes from the final in London to the British government. “The Johnson government had announced 19 July as ‘freedom day’, the day on which Brits could return to pre-pandemic routines. In fact, the masks already fell on the day of the final – and Johnson’s mask was pulled away the day after.”

The Spanish press was saddened, if far from surprised, by Sunday’s events. “England lost Euro 2020 but they also lost a huge opportunity to show that they’re an admirable team with exemplary fans,” was ABC’s take on the final.

El País’s London correspondent, Rafa de Miguel, offered a similar appraisal. “In the hours leading up to the Euro final, groups of England fans took it upon themselves to ruin the good image that Gareth Southgate’s squad had built up,” he wrote.

“Hundreds of hooligans clashed with the police at one of the Wembley entrances. They managed to jump the security fences and ended up on the floor in a disorderly scrum . . . beer bottles flew above the avenue that leads to the stadium and the floor was a corridor of broken glass and scattered rubbish.

“When the time came, and as tradition dictates, a good number of fans once again showed why it can be so hard for even those with the best will in the world to support the Three Lions,” De Miguel added. “And you can’t blame Brexit. All you have to do is look at what happened on the streets”.

For his colleague Walter Oppenheimer, Sunday – and indeed the path that had led to the final – revealed some deeper truths about England as both a team and a country.

“What happens with England when it comes to football happens with other things, too,” wrote Oppenheimer. “While it is a powerful, advanced and often generous country, [and] a pioneer in disciplines from science to art and thought, it is also a petulant country, incapable of accepting its limitations.” – Guardian

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