If you listen to those senior British officers already preparing to police England fans at the Russia World Cup next summer, you will find signs of genuine optimism. The first diplomatic mission to Moscow recently concluded and it is clear that Russian football police have a good intelligence network, know exactly where the criminal element resides and can handle these crowds with more sophistication than the outside world might think.
It is England who present the problem. When the nation’s fans were involved in open warfare with French and Russian gangs at last summer’s European Championships, talk among football’s authorities turned to how they might be persuaded that watching the national team should not involve colonising some unsuspecting town and singing about the RAF and the war. Nothing has changed.
Last summer’s hooliganism storm burned out as fast as it took hold and what we have been left with Dortmund this week has been the same sense of embarrassment to be English. The occupation of the German town was one thing, but the chanting and absence of respect during England’s match against Joachim Löw’s side took things up onto another level.
Just when you thought it might have vanished, those so-familiar strains of the ’10 German bombers’ song issued out again like the return of a recurring nightmare. And it was not an intellectually-challenged few who were happy to sing for fully 15 minutes of how “the RAF from England shot them down.” Dozens did so. There’s a bit of choreography at the end of the song where everyone puts their arms out like a plane. It is no exaggeration to say that the corner housing the English component was full of wretched planes. You just hoped that the Germans couldn’t work out what they were singing.
That was half way through the first half of what, in retrospect, we can say was one of the most promising performances from an England side for years – a display of intelligence, positional awareness and confidence, provided by a group of young England players quite clearly up to the intellectual challenge of a new tactical system. Yet throughout that first 45-minute period there was not a single song about an England player.
The Geman contingent had shown what an interest in football looked like with their send-off for Lukas Podolski, of course, though the braying English saw fit to howl through that and to boo through the German national anthem. The ugliness of the hand gestures for Podolski when he left the field are almost beyond words. This was the behaviour of scum. Such are the liberties for which our forebears laid down their lives. What would they think to see these people now?
The only mercy about next summer in Moscow is that the tournament is too far away and its locations too far removed from each other to send England supporters out in vast numbers. But a few Russia songs are doing the rounds already and from where we stand now, it seems very likely that English football's reputation will be dragged through the mud again, with more episodes of juvenile delinquency with a beer-fuelled, nationalistic twist.
The challenge is how to hammer home the point that this is socially unacceptable – and no doubt, the British police will tread carefully. The issue was a hospital pass for Gareth Southgate on his first night as international manager and seems to be a delicate one for a Football Association which does not want to alienate those who travel. But Southgate’s comments were, frankly, not nearly strong enough.
The FA strengthened its position late on Thursday when its chairman Greg Clarke described the behaviour as “inappropriate, disrespectful and disappointing” and urged travelling England supporters to “show respect and not to chant songs that could be regarded as insulting to others”. The governing body will review video footage to identify those involved in anti-social behaviour in Dortmund and they could become the subject of banning orders and prevened from travelling to watch England.
The Russian state is determined that its event will not be scarred by images of violence, though there will be little slack cut for any who arrive on Russian soil and behave like an invading English army. Any such individuals can expect to get holy hell beaten out of them. In the aftermath, they will no doubt want to claim they are victims. Don’t let them say they weren’t told.