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In defence of rowdy England fans

No, those boisterous renditions of ‘10 German Bombers’ are not a hate crime.

Simon Evans

Simon Evans
Columnist

Topics Sport UK

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With a weary inevitability that makes rain at Wimbledon and broken promises on immigration look like black-swan events, no sooner had this year’s UEFA European Championship kicked off than the alleged yobbery of England football fans abroad was being decried as an unbearable source of national shame across the middle-class media.

A number of videos have emerged showing England fans singing ‘10 German Bombers’ ahead of Sunday’s clash with Serbia. One video, filmed in Düsseldorf, western Germany, shows a fan holding a toy plane and pretending to crash it as he sings. Fans were warned explicitly not to do ‘the one about the bombers’ ahead of the Euros by the German police. In the past, the FA and England manager Gareth Southgate have also told fans not to sing it.

Whether, as Logan Pearsall Smith asserted, ‘the denunciation of the young… greatly assists the circulation of the blood’, I don’t know. But the denunciation of English ’ooligans certainly seems to improve the circulation of the Daily Mail.

No one likes to see graceful European boulevards or German Straßen laid waste to by rampaging youths under any banner, let alone that of the notorious Cappadocian Islamophobe St George. But we really do need to get some of this stuff in perspective.

Yes, England fans are on the raw, rough and ready end of the supporter spectrum. But singing a song about Luftwaffe bombers being taken down one at a time, like the ‘10 Green Bottles’ on which the song is based, is hardly the hate crime some would have you believe.

Indeed, considering the actions of those German bombers, still just about in living memory, and the regime on whose behalf they were doing that bombing, you might think enduring the occasional faint, goading echo of a playground chant once every two or three years would be regarded as a pretty genial penance. As indeed, I suspect, many regular Germans would agree.

Yes, ‘10 German Bombers’ is a bit historically reductive, but terrace chants don’t pretend to be an even-handed reflection on the past. Yes, perhaps it is time to move on from the Second World War stuff – at football tournaments, at least. But the point of playing team sports under a national flag is precisely to blow on the old embers, to briefly re-awaken some old flickering ghosts, on a relatively safe stage. That’s why we care so much about the outcome. As that great critic of nationalism, Ernest Gellner, wrote: ‘I do not think I could have written the book on nationalism which I did write, were I not capable of crying, with the help of a little alcohol, over [Bohemian] folk songs.’ Very few of these songs celebrate the day they made up with the Turks.

This particular chant might be a bit repetitive, unimaginative even. But football chanting is not an exercise in individual lyricism and creativity, though that does bubble up from time to time. These songs are there to unite, kindle brotherhood, raise spirits and morale, through the bonding effect of tradition.

The English are not alone in this. Irish rebel songs also have a knack of ‘harking back’ and, like the ‘10 German Bombers’, are context dependent. They are not quite acceptable fare on daytime TV, but they arouse a very real feeling, and I do not believe that feeling is one of hate.

I do not like these attempts to snuff out the few remaining, glowing coals of what was once a mighty furnace. English manhood is now in crisis. There are fewer and fewer valuable roles through which ordinary lads can hope to earn some money, status and respect. Plenty of the same X accounts that lament these ragged scruffs and tearaways also pin tweets about the mounting dangers of young male suicide and other deaths of despair. For these men, knowing they are not alone, even in a somewhat disreputable endeavour, is the best medicine there is. A handful of Tommies getting a bit lippy on the Berliner Platz is not a source of shame to me.

Besides, it is hard to imagine there being so much furore over a mere football chant in decades’ past. What has changed is that huge corporate interests now want you to understand that the football pitch, the stands and the entire proposition of the Euros are a commercially owned space. That football is all about watching that nice Mr Lineker sharing some reminiscences from Italia 90. It’s about Gabby Logan sampling a Schnitzel and explaining the offside rule. It’s a game that has become so sanitised and twee that it can be used to sell insurance. The boisterous fan is less welcome than ever.

We seem to have forgotten that for most of its history football wouldn’t have survived at all if it wasn’t for the type of men forced to cross the sea and go into dangerous conflict zones, to tell the Germans the score. It is their game, really. Let them chant what they please.

Simon Evans is a spiked columnist and stand-up comedian.

Picture by: X.

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Topics Sport UK

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