‘10 German bombers’: The song the FA tried – and failed – to stamp out

Euro 2024 flags outside the Arena Frankfurt Stadium
Euro 2024 flags outside the Arena Frankfurt Stadium

The message could hardly have been clearer – or more attention-grabbing – than that issued to any England fan thinking of singing ’10 German Bombers’ at the European Championship.

“Don’t be a d--k”, proclaimed Gelsenkirchen’s chief of police in an interview with Telegraph Sport during the build-up to this summer’s tournament.

But, judging by the scenes there before England’s opening match against Serbia, Peter Both’s bid to stop the song becoming a shameful soundtrack to the Three Lions’ Euro 2024 campaign was always doomed to fail.

The same could be said about the UK police and Football Association’s attempt to prevent the violence to have plagued England at the Euros by urging fans to be “good guests” amid bloody clashes between supporters in central Gelsenkirchen.

It was Both’s call for a halt to the German bombers song that fell on the most deaf ears, though, the latest failed effort to stamp out an illicit staple of the England fanbase’s playlist since the last major tournament in Germany.

The 2006 World Cup there saw then-manager Sven-Goran Eriksson – tragically given a year to live back in January – write in a message to supporters: “Germany will be a fantastic host country – we must be respectful ambassadors for our country and our football. I’d particularly like to call on you to avoid any anti-German singing and chanting.

“The song which we really don’t want to hear is the one about 10 German Bombers.”

The result? Type the words ‘England fans Stuttgart’ into a search engine.

The song continued to be performed by supporters, including during subsequent games against Germany, before the FA’s patience was tested to breaking point in March 2017 when it was loudly sung in a friendly in Stuttgart and accompanied by gestures mimicking aircraft in flight.

The then-chairman of the FA, Greg Clarke, condemned the scenes, saying: “The FA has consistently urged supporters to show respect and not to chant songs that could be regarded as insulting to others.

“Individuals who engage in such behaviour do not represent the overwhelming majority of England fans nor the values and identity we should aspire to as a football nation.”

Less than two months later, the FA banned a number of members of the England Supporters Travel Club for “unacceptable behaviour” during the friendly.

If that was designed to deter fans from singing the song, it, too, failed.

As did Gareth Southgate becoming the latest England manager to condemn it ahead of a subsequent friendly against Germany nearly five months after that.

“It’s unacceptable, completely unacceptable,” Southgate said. “We’ve moved on from those times, or should have moved on from those times. They don’t represent us as a team, the people who do that.”

Efforts to hold the FA itself responsible for those singing the song during matches – as it would be if England supporters chanted racist of homophobic slurs at games – also came to nought.

Preventative measures

At the last Euros, the FARE Network, which operates Uefa’s anti-discrimination monitoring system, submitted an official report to European football’s governing body about the song being performed during the Three Lions’ opening fixture against Croatia.

Piara Powar, the executive director of FARE, told the Telegraph at the time: “We would classify it as an ultra-nationalist song that, sung within certain contexts, would be seen as an insult and discriminatory.”

But the incident was not deemed to meet the threshold for sanctions to be imposed upon the FA, which would also have been hampered attempting to identify anyone singing it by coronavirus restrictions that included the wearing of masks at matches.

The FA nevertheless issued a stark warning to fans caught performing it ahead of England’s last-16 clash with Germany at Wembley.

It said: “We always encourage our fans to positively get behind the team, and this includes supporting England in the right way, before, during and after the match. This message will be shared with them once again before Tuesday’s fixture, as well as thanking them for their support.

“We will also strongly condemn any behaviour at Wembley Stadium that is discriminatory or disrespectful, and we will take action where appropriate as we try to ensure all England matches are a safe and enjoyable experience.”

By then, Germany had long since been named hosts for Euro 2024 – way back in September 2018 – giving the FA and others almost six years to convince supporters not to sing the song there this summer.

But, unlike in the build-up to the 2006 World Cup, there have been no proactive public calls or campaigns from the FA or Southgate in relation to ’10 German Bombers’.

Could that have been in the hope that if they “Don’t mention the war”, fans might not either?

At a pre-tournament briefing at the Foreign Office last month, those responsible for policing fan behaviour at Euro 2024 appeared at pains to avoid making explicit threats towards supporters caught singing the song.

As did the FA when approached after it was performed during England’s warm-up win over Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Only Both appeared willing to confront the issue head on, highlighting a campaign by the Football Supporters’ Association urging Three Lions fans, “Please don’t be a d--k”, after they rioted in Portugal during their side’s 2019 Nations League semi-final against the Netherlands.

Judging by what happened at the Euro 2020 final at Wembley barely two years later – and the unrest to erupt on Sunday – that campaign has not worked either.

In response to a series of questions about its approach to the ’10 German Bombers’ song in the build-up to Euro 2024, a spokesman for the FA said: “We always encourage our fans to positively get behind the team. This includes supporting England in the right way, before, during and after matches, and we want to be great guests at the tournament.”