Offside, 7 June

The Football Association (FA) and the Home Office are trying to re-brand the English football fan by diktat

Duleep Allirajah

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Topics Politics

‘Why aren’t England fans like the Tartan Army?, asked Brian Oliver in the Observer (1).

The article was illustrated by two pictures of what England fans ought to be like: one of the Tartan Army, the other of two opposing fans – one Dutch, one Brazilian – drinking together arm-in-arm at the 1998 World Cup in France. The Dutchman is wearing a silly wig, a lyotard, and comedy clogs.

So why aren’t England fans like this? Self-respect, perhaps?

Things, though, are about to change. The Football Association (FA) and the Home Office are trying to re-brand the English football fan by diktat. The FA is disbanding the England Members Club and will shortly launch a new PC version. Out goes the tattooed thug chanting ‘No surrender to the IRA’ – in come women and ethnic minority supporters. Or so the FA hopes.

Members of the new club will be expected to ‘sign up’ to ‘behavioural standards’ that will prohibit racism and bigotry (2). I’m certainly not comfortable listening to fans sing ‘I’d rather be a Paki than a Turk’ – but why should supporters be barred from following England for expressing off-message political sentiments? Fans who travel abroad and break the law must face the consequences of their actions. You wouldn’t invite them around for dinner, but singing offensive songs is not a crime – or at least, not in my book.

How sad too that Scotland’s once-feared and reviled Tartan Army is now the model for the well-behaved fan. The Tartan Army of today is a ragbag of amiable buffoons dressed in kilts and ginger wigs who sing ‘Doe, a deer, a female deer’ from The Sound of Music. Scottish fans may have lost their dignity a long time ago – along with their famous Hampden roar – but that’s no reason to expect England fans to follow suit. Does the FA want England fans to dress up as Morris Dancers or Beefeaters and politely applaud their opponents?

Football writer Mark Perryman wants England fans to adopt ‘All You Need is Love’ as their anthem in order to promote a new inclusive form of Englishness. But why shouldn’t England fans sing ‘No surrender to the IRA’ or ‘Rule Britannia’ if they want to? The antiquated British nationalism that produced these songs is dead, and the chauvinistic sentiments they express are an embarrassment to the new political elite. These songs are now nothing more than football songs – as meaningless as the hymn ‘Abide with me’ which is sung before every FA Cup Final.

Perhaps England fans will one day stop singing ‘No surrender’ and start singing ‘The peace process is wonderful’ or ‘Who ate all the chicken tikka massala?’ instead. If they do, it won’t be because the FA has told them what to sing.

If England fans have a responsibility, it is to give the team loud vocal backing. They should not be expected to be ambassadors for a new touchy-feely English identity. And as for behavioural standards? Well, it’s just common sense – they should not wear fancy dress, hug opposing fans, or take part in Mexican waves. Leave that nonsense to the Tartan Army clowns.

(1) Why aren’t England fans like the Tartan Army?, Observer, 3 June 2001

(2) Home Office Working Group on Football Disorder, Report and Recommendations, March 2001

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