After England disturbances, it...


After England disturbances, it's time for UEFA and FIFA to get tough on fan violence

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We've seen this story before from a minority of England fans. Trouble. Jingoistic chants. Bad publicity. 

The latest episode was last night.  Bottles were thrown at police in the Porto fan zone on the eve of the Nations League semi-final between England and the Netherlands.

The English FA knew hassle was on the cards, with manager Gareth Southgate making a public plea and the FA releasing a short film entitled 'Don't be an idiot' in advance. The problem with idiots, sadly, is that they don't have the intelligence to behave. I call them 'dumb nobodies' and I am proud of that description.

It's not necessarily an 'English' problem too. Over 100,000 Liverpool and Tottenham fans descended on Madrid last weekend for the Champions League Final and there wasn't a whiff of sulphur. Perhaps what was in their minds was enjoying a city, meeting their friends, picking up a ticket and going to the biggest club game in the world.

What was the thinking behind an England fan travelling to Porto, or Amsterdam or Seville last year when there was also violence?

Do you ever remember trouble involving Republic of Ireland supporters at an international - home, away, or at a tournament?

One of the reasons Italia '90 put Ireland on the map was the wonderful camaraderie and behaviour displayed by our people at the nation's first World Cup. The tournament made the country proud and injected confidence, not just because of the performances of Jack Charlton's team to reach the quarter-finals, but also due to the way we conducted ourselves and were received. The same at USA 94.  The same in Japan and South Korea in 2002.  The same in Poland in 2012.  The same in France at Euro 2016.

It was Euro 2016 where the ugly spectre of football hooliganism returned to the screens and now the social media universe, amplifying it tenfold.  English fans were primarily the victims in places such as Marseille, as organised Russian ultras ran amok. The disgusting carnage led to Russia being handed a suspended disqualification from the tournament. It scarred the English psyche so much that travel to the FIFA World Cup in Russia last year was seen as unsafe, a position buttressed by the English foreign office and mainstream media.

I knew from the moment I arrived in Russia to cover the World Cup that it would be the safest place on earth. Security was at insane levels, with airport-style checkpoints, omnipresent regular police and combat police everywhere around cities and match venues. The ultras were in Siberia, not literally, but they may as well have been. Not one person dared step out of line.

The Russian police were helpful, but there was always that air of 'don't go there'. I saw England play Panama, Belgium, Sweden, Colombia and Croatia all over Russia and their fans were good natured. They were great. They were real fans. If there was a bad element inherent, it remained hidden, as the security was a deterrent.

Football has become so big now that deterrence is key. Deterrence will be harder for Euro 2020, with games strewn all over the Continent. The gathering of the masses will be in pockets of cities, Dublin included.

UEFA may believe that it's up to the local areas to police their citizens and keep them safe, but tell that to the people of Porto today.

It's time to hit any association where it hurts to project a zero tolerance policy.

How about banning away supporters?  How about forcing a nation to play behind closed doors?  How about deducting points? UEFA, FIFA and national governments need to bang heads on this issue. It's just not acceptable in 2019.

The FA know the situation is tricky for them. It must be deeply frustrating.

In a statement today, they "strongly condemned scenes witnessed in Porto overnight. Anyone responsible for these disturbances are an embarrassment to the team and the thousands of well-behaved fans who follow England in the right way."

Organised trouble is possible. I never felt the thugs that caused mayhem at Lansdowne Road in 1995 were real England fans.

The Euro 2020 semi-finals and final are set for Wembley in London. Let's hope for England's sake that their football community and police force close ranks, weed out the scum and wipe this scourge from the beautiful game.

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