New Times,
New Thinking.

  1. The Staggers
1 July 2024

Why are England football fans so entitled?

Modern supporters often expect the impossible of their teams.

By Hunter Davies

Why did England get booed so much and so often during those early Euro games? Players had missiles thrown at them, as did St Gareth. Friends and family members of players, even the lesser-known names confined to the bench, also had abuse and beer thrown at them by fans nearby who were watching games from the posh seats. Fans are meant to be supporters: loyal to the team, the players and their country. Why do this when they have travelled all that way and at such expense? Because England played shite. That’s the simple answer.

I was more surprised when Belgium got booed off the pitch after a goalless draw with Ukraine. There were jeers and whistles aimed at Kevin De Bruyne, a brilliant player and national hero.

I think it is because modern fans of the top footballing countries, very like modern players, feel entitled. Though in a different way, expecting different rewards. England and Belgium were among the hot favourites when it all began and their fans got carried away, expecting excellence, or at least entertainment. They feel personally let down when their lauded, pampered heroes don’t provide what they, the fans, have expected, or have led themselves to believe would happen. The deluded fools.

Fans don’t, I think, resent the massive salaries the top players earn – millions a year at the Premier League clubs – not if they are doing the business. But if they aren’t, the fans become angry. Perhaps the abuse is more prevalent today because of the effects of social media. It is so easy today to rubbish and attack our heroes and celebrities rather than worship them.

Perhaps England, Belgium and the other leading countries – both players and fans – have come to assume they are always going to stuff the smaller nations, way down the pecking order, whose teams comprise footballers we have mostly not heard of.

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I did not recognise any of the names or faces playing for Georgia – currently 74th in the Fifa world rankings and a country with a population of just under four million – when they beat Portugal, a football superpower, with the superstar Cristiano Ronaldo on the pitch. But of course the victory was greeted by ecstasy back home, one of the greatest moments in the country’s history. I rather envied them their joy.

The smaller countries like Slovakia and Serbia watch all the Prem games and, of course, know all our superstars and super-teams and probably feel quite inferior about their own status. So how lovely and satisfying to give us all and themselves a surprise.

Austria, Turkey, Romania, middle-ranking in the world order, have all done pretty well and I have enjoyed watching them. Being organised and sensible, working hard, pulling together and not being expected to reach the final does help. One of the explanations for England’s poor play has been that the players are tired, poor petals, after a long, hard season. But all players appearing at the Euros have had long seasons.

Watching the might of Ingerland take on little, humble Slovakia in the first of the knockout games, I half-wanted them to be beaten so it would all be over. England had given me such a headache so far. We wouldn’t have to worry about them for another year. Phew. Gareth could take holy orders and become vicar of a tiny parish on Teeside. Peace at last.

I would have kept watching, of course, if only to work out what OVERALL means on the screen where they show the score. Is it a reference to Mrs Overall? An advert for work clothes? A philosophical musing? Overall, watching football is better than watching paint dry. And I have not yet decided if that really is the Brandenburg Gate behind the BBC studio set. It looks much grander and bigger than in real life.

But after another 90 boring minutes, England somehow managed to beat Slovakia, saved by an amazing goal by Bellingham in stoppage time. We foolish, self-deluded fans now tell ourselves the best is yet to come. They can’t keep playing rubbish forever.  

[See also: Inside the shadow Tory leadership election]

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This article appears in the 02 Jul 2024 issue of the New Statesman, Labour’s Britain