Depending on who you believe, last night’s Europa League clash between Arsenal and Koln was either a throwback to the days of continental hooliganism or a demonstration of how sterile the supporter scene has become in England. The truth was probably somewhere in betweSure, the behaviour of some of the 20,000 travelling fans that descended on the Emirates Stadium on Thursday night could have been better, with some videos showing some trouble around the turnstiles. Some barriers were kicked over and there was a general air of chaos, but this probably didn’t warrant the media coverage that transpired on Friday morning.
“Euro trashed” read one headline, with another one labelling the scenes as “disgraceful.” That seemed somewhat hyperbolic. What was most telling about the reaction was how the focus fell on the fans rather than those responsible for the organisation. This is a mistake we make over and over again in this country. In light of such incidents, we continually shine the spotlight on the wrong things.
Part of the issue on Thursday night seemed to be confusion from some Koln fans over the segregation of the crowd at the Emirates. Many had bought tickets for the home end believing that there would be no issue with them taking their seat there. That, of course, was a concern for the stewards on duty.
But why? They were only following protocol, but why does the protocol dictate that visiting fans can’t mix with home fans in the home end? This is a very British way of thinking, with most European countries adopting a more relaxed approach to segregation. This is presumably why so many Koln supporters believed they could buy home tickets without any fuss.
In Spain, segregation is rare. For the most part, away fans pick up tickets wherever they can, mingling with the natives. It could be argued that this is down to the modest travelling supports often seen at Spanish games, but it’s the same in Germany, where just like the United Kingdom, there is a culture of fans travelling to away games to support their team. Sure, there are away sections, but that doesn’t mean away fans can’t sit in other areas of the ground. This is where the difference can be found.
Of course, segregation is an unavoidable requirement for some matches, high profile derbies and games that have previously witnessed antagonisation between two sets of fans. There is still a need to be realistic about things, meaning it’s unlikely that segregation will ever be ditched for matches between Liverpool and Manchester United, or North London derbies. That would be asking for trouble.
But for the vast majority of games, like Thursday’s match between Arsenal and Koln, is there really a need? For instance Leicester City will travel to Huddersfield this weekend, with their fans shepherded into an away section at the Kirklees Stadium. Would there really be much of an issue with simply allowing Foxes fans to watch the game among the home fans?
There is a school of thought that claims humans behave in accordance with their surroundings, in line with the way they are treated. Segregation perpetuates the idea that hatred should exist at all times between opposing sets of fans, but get rid of that segregation, would a culture change occur?
This isn’t an issue they have in other sports or in other countries. Is that because of the way fans are treated or is it because British football supporters are inherently different? There is little reason to believe it is the latter, and so we must look to address the former. The 20,000 Koln fans who “stormed” the Emirates on Thursday night have shown us that.