For brainless idiots in their thousands to indulge in misbehaviour and abuse they have to be brainless in the first place and secondly the society in which they operate has to tolerate it. Our dysfunctional society does that. It accepts or ignores the endemic failure of education and at the same time the failure to have put in place checks and balances which stop stupid people doing stupid things. We are close to being ungovernable.
Let’s be clear – we are not talking about a tiny minority of hotheads here. Research points to a cohort , mostly ill-educated white males , for whom drunkenness and disruption is at the core of their behaviour. Football is one of the contexts in which their ignorance plays out. It is aggressive and provocative.
Somewhere along the way in their adolescence these people slipped under the educators’ nets and emerged dimwitted and dangerous. Then peer groups were formed which legitimised behaviour by numbers. One man walking up Wembley Way chanting abuse can be ignored. Hundreds banded together, identified by their dress codes and flags and fuelled by alcohol, cannot.
The gangs have to know what they are against, and they have to have scapegoats – a blame culture lies at the heart of their behaviour. Behaviour which can trip over into a form of mass hysteria. It’s not cerebral of course but it can be used by politicians or others to further their own ends. The “Football Lads Alliance” was less about football and more about far–right politics. They were direct descendants of those who marched for Mosley or Powell.
Football hooliganism is not a modern phenomenon but the modern version we saw at Wembley is part of a wider present day societal malaise. Not all of the recent mobs had any political motivation – many were “just” out of control hooligans. But the lack of education and the lack of social norms and checks and balances lies at the core of the problem. When a drunken mob riots we have to look and our schools and our homes, our families and more generally at our society to help explain why.
The evidence provided by analysis of the 2019 election is clear. Forty-five percent of voters with “Low” education voted Conservative and a further 19% for the Brexit Party. The Tories by absorbing UKIP ( in practice if not in fact) had sewn up the working class voter and since then they’ve absorbed the Brexit Party as well. The Conservatives, now indisputably Hard Right, are utterly dominant in that cohort.
Of course I am not accusing all working class Tory voters of being potential hooligans. Most are law-abiding citizens. However it is reasonable to assume that with the Conservatives now being almost indistinguishable from Nigel Farage’s UKIP (2006 – 2016) this has provided a cover for prejudice, flag-waving nationalism and xenophobia to emerge. Hostility to our once European partners, swingeing reductions in overseas aid and aggressive treatment of refugees, asylum seekers and potential migrants is straight out of the UKIP textbook. As is the forced “repatriation” of residents, often illegally, as highlighted by the Windrush scandal.
This brings me to the other football-related phenomena of these troubled times. The racial abuse directed at black footballers and the booing of opponents’ national anthems and their players at international games. This is intolerance and open prejudice of a quite sinister type. The Prime Minister’s ambivalence on the booing of England players “taking the knee” provided further cover behind which the abusers hid. Priti Patel, the Home Secretary has said that football fans have a right to boo the England team for “taking the knee” – the Home Secretary has called it “gesture politics”.
Authoritarianism is an obvious cause of prejudice and the most vulnerable to authoritarian messages are the less well educated. The dictatorial often binary (“For us or against us” ) political imperative rejects political plurality – it is by its nature intolerant. But it provides a sort of certainty. Symbols enforce this certainty. To adapt Evelyn Waugh: “… a drunk politician should… put out more flags in order to increase his… splendour.”