25th May 2012
England fans are coming!
There’s growing excitement in England about the build-up to Euro 2012 in Ukraine. The British Embassy in Kyiv is working hard to ensure that the thousands of England fans we expect to visit during the championships are properly prepared for the visit with a “Know Before You Go” campaign.
We’re also working hard to ensure we’re well prepared to provide any consular assistance which may be needed, e.g. in cases of fans losing their passports.
These preparations are standard for all major overseas tournaments in which England takes part, including the World Cups in South Africa in 2010 and in Germany in 2006. I was in Germany for the latter and was privileged to watch England beat Paraguay 1-0 in Frankfurt. That game was notable for the huge number of England fans both in the stadium and in the city – on some estimates, 25,000 fans in the ground alone.
What was also striking about the tournaments in both Germany and South Africa was that our carefully-laid consular plans turned out not to be needed too much. This was partly because of luck – you can never predict what will happen when large number of people get together. But it was also because the fans who attend England matches today are utterly different from their 1980s bad-boy image.
Many fans now travel with their families. The website of the Football Supporters Federation gives a good feel for the kind of issues they’re interested in. The FSF plan to release their “Free Lions” guide to Ukraine and Poland today.
One important reason why the nature of British football fans has changed is that in 2000 the British Government introduced a series of unprecedented tough measures to banish violence from football, including Football Banning Orders which prevent fans with a history of violence from travelling when England were playing overseas.
The results have been impressive: in South Africa in 2010, for example, not a single England fan was arrested for a violence-related offence. The England fans I met in Frankfurt, and indeed in Dnipropetrovsk when England played Ukraine there in 2009, were a notably peaceful lot.
When England fans come to Kyiv and Donetsk for their group stage matches, I can guarantee they will bring plenty of passion; and they will be primed to have a good time. But they won’t be looking for trouble.
The image of England fans as rowdy hooligans is as outdated as Soviet-era images of London fog – which was banished by the 1956 Clean Air Act.