England supporters who set up camp in Russian cities and sing about World War II next summer will be putting safety of the nation’s entire travelling World Cup contingent at risk, the head of British football’s policing unit has told The Independent.
Assistant chief constable Mark Roberts, who led the overseas British force which helped investigate attacks on England fans by highly organised Russians gangs at last summer’s European Championships in France dismissed the notion that the ‘10 German bombers’ – which was sung again in Dortmund last week – was simply humour and said that Russians will not differentiate between nationalistic trouble-makers and ordinary supporters.
“You try telling a Russian hooligan that it’s banter,” said Mr Roberts. “I would not like to try and float that argument next summer. Many people in other countries find some of the behaviour we are seeing offensive. It's vile and it alienates other teams' fans.
“As well as causing offence, it makes it more dangerous for British fans. These supporters are making themselves and everyone else a target.”
In an initial preparatory visit to Moscow last month, Mr Roberts, head of the UK Football Policing Unit, found that there is a high level Russian commitment to make sure that the World Cup passes off without the kind of clashes and hooliganism which soured last summer’s finals in France.
Despite last summer’s Russian surface bluster, with the national team’s striker Artem Dzyuba claiming English fans were partly to blame for the attacks on them in Marseille, some police chiefs in Moscow were mortified by their compatriots' level of violence. The recent BBC2 documentary, Russia’s Hooligan Army, has not gone without notice in the host nation and many Russian ringleaders are likely to be taken out of action.
Yet officers in both England and Russia believe that there will be little chance of preventing reprisals if England fans repeat some of the behaviour witnessed again in Dortmund, including singing nationalistic songs, booing opposition national anthems, and acting like an occupying army.
“You can’t expect rival fans or police to differentiate between drunken actions and actions which cause offence,” said Mr Roberts. “It also affects the way local police deal with supporters en masse. Foreign police will react.”
Police are presently reviewing footage from Dortmund, where many fans who sang continuously for 15 minutes about the war while making plane gestures at the end of their anthem. British officers are ready to ask magistrates to issue banning orders if it can be demonstrated that disorder in the Westfalenstadion contributed to violence.
Under section 14b of the Football Spectators Act, an order can be issued if a fan is shown to “contribute to any violence or disorder in the UK or elsewhere.” More than 2,000 British supporters are currently under such orders.
The Independent’s reporting of last week’s nationalistic singing in Dortmund prompted a backlash from some supporters. “Not everyone was a beer-fuelled yob,” said one. “I didn’t do the mock aeroplanes, so get your facts right.”
Another stated: “The Germans understand the song quite well. They just don’t feel targeted by it. Different era. Different identity.” And another: “Get a life. It’s banter – you know the type ordinary working folk take part in on a regular basis.”
But opposition supporters do not see it that way and though violence of Marseille proportions may be reduced by fewer fans travelling to Russia, intelligence suggests that supporters in that country view English supporters as would-be ‘top dogs’ who must be taken down.
The Football Association chairman Greg Clarke last week condemned the singing in Germany, while the Football Supporters’ Federation (FSF) said that “little of the wit and imagination that goes into our club football songs is reflected at England games.” The FSF sees the risk of a regression to the grim days of the 1980s when the nation’s supporters were greeted by dogs and riot police when they arrived in opposition countries.
The leader of the ‘Orel Butchers’ group that was at the centre of the Marseille violence said in the BBC documentary that England fans will be subjected to violence again if they travel to Russia next June. “They can come over and we’ll see,” he said. “Somebody will obviously try to do something, that is like 100 per cent – 100 per cent guaranteed.”