One of the pleasures of going to see a live match in England and continental Europe these days is the lack of fan segregation.
After leaving Wales in 1984 and returning to England in 2006 to attend a professional match again, I was shocked by how fans were allowed to mingle together in the streets outside the grounds. Inside the Premier League stadiums, the away fans were put in their corner surrounded by stewards. But before and after the games, the fans from both teams could be seen standing and walking next to each other with no aggro or insults traded.
Such is the difference between English football in 1984 and 2006. Not having been to a top tier professional match in England for so long I was stunned by how much things had changed.
I experienced the same thing at the Holland against Italy match at Euro 2008. While I didn’t expect the supporters to be herded into the different stands as was common in the late 70s and early 80s, I was surprised by how there was little to no segregation in the Wankdorf Stadium in Berne. Sure, there was the Italian end and the Dutch end both at opposite sides of the ground where the official supporters club stood. But throughout the remainder of the stadium Dutch fans sat next to Italian fans and neutrals.
This is definitely the modern day football experience where hooliganism is becoming extremely rare except for small clashes. Fans of all ages and races sitting together in stands without trying to attack each other.
All of this happens though with Big Brother playing a large part behind the scenes. In the build up to the Holland against Italy match, there were several helicopters circling around the ground conceivably looking for trouble or possible terrorism. There are also lots of security cameras in key locations watching for trouble. And there’s still quite a big police presence lurking from a distance and waiting to pounce if any trouble kicks off.
Watching the Turkey against Croatia match, it was hard not to notice the large presence of stewards behind each goal. Their presence seemed excessive especially the three rows of stewards standing in front of the Croatia end. There was a noticeably smaller presence in front of the Turkey end. Before and after the match there were some isolated clashes between fans, but looking at the large numbers of Turkish and Croats throughout the other parts of the stadium, everything seemed to be pretty calm, thankfully.
While it’s refreshing to see fans from both sides — whether it’s in the Premier League or Euro 2008 — attend a football match without the worry of violence happening, there is a little part of me that misses the tension and the abusive chants between opposing sets of fans. Now the atmosphere feels more like a company picnic party. Everyone’s there to have a good time but it’s all so sedate.
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