The build-up to the European Championship saw talk centred on the heightened police presence that would be concentrated on events in France. The atrocities that unfolded in Paris the previous year meant that the likelihood of a repeat attack was elevated, and French forces would be en masse to ensure the safety of the crowds who would be attending.
There was no talk of how the potential fighting would be in the stands – and between rival fans.
The tournament has only been in action for little over a week, and yet the headlines haven’t been dominated by on-field drama. Casting a mammoth shadow over proceedings has been violence from fans of Russia, England, Wales and most recently, during the match between Croatia and the Czech Republic.
It hasn’t been restricted to during matches either, as some of the worst scenes we have witnessed has been in the streets of the cities that are hosting some of the games. Warnings have been issued by governing body UEFA to nations, but it has done little to dampen the rage that has spilled in France.
The roots of the trouble are reportedly found within Russian fans, who according to reports, have turned up mob-handed with no interest in how their team performs. Russian politicians have also commented on the ugly scenes and controversially commended their comrades.
Not since Italia ’90 has football been blighted so thoroughly by hooliganism. There will always be pockets of so called ‘ultras,’ who exist for no other reason than to exacerbate any rivalry, and there has been of course, moments over the years where clashes have marred many matches and tournaments.
Coaches of National teams have been forced to speak to the media regarding their fans. Prison sentences have been dished out to many supporters involved in clashes. Roy Hodgson and Wayne Rooney have even had to intervene and issue a plea to the small, moronic, portion of England ‘fans’ who have been responsible for some incidents. When was the last time this has been required? There has always been the potential for trouble, and moments where fan clashes have interrupted the peace which football enjoys compared to the dark days of the Eighties.
There has not been this level of consistent violence though. It has ruined what is turning out to be one of the most hotly contested Euro Championships for quite some time. Instead of being remembered for this, it looks like, in years from now, this incarnation of the tournament will forever be hand in hand with the savagery that has taken place.
This is a crying shame, as this tournament has been one of the finest displays of football for many years.
There has been a distinct thirst for goals thus far, and especially a drought of shots on target, but this hasn’t been down to a lack of technical expertise. It is down to the defending from teams which has seen world-class talent flounder in the face of organisation, and perfect timing.
Aside from Spain’s destruction of Turkey, teams have failed to materialise thrills, and indeed spills, in the opposition end. Upon further inspection though, the source of such frustration can be found in the backline of each team.
Iceland, for example, are taking part in their first ever major tournament. They have a total population which is smaller than Swindon, and their man for man job they did on Portugal was immense.
Germany, for some the favourites to win the Championships, played out a 0-0 draw with Poland. On first glance, this game looked a typical boring stalemate, but peppered through the ninety minutes on the pitch, there were tackles going in which nullified so many goal threats. Dramatic, last-minute lunges which have spared their team going behind.
The refereeing has also seen improvement, and has made the standard in the Premier League appear elementary at best.
The goals may be at a premium, but when they have shown up, more often than not, the finishing has been superb. Artisans have crafted some masterpieces, and the gallery is well stocked. Rakitic Vs the Czech Republic, Morata’s excellent guided header against Turkey, Payet in the first match against Romania, Marek Hamsik with his winner against Russia. Each flick of their boot has been akin to a painters brush, and must be marvelled at.
The best part of Euro 2016 has to be the close confines in which each team find themselves in terms of competitiveness however. Supposed minnows have been swimming with the big boys, and have so far been more than capable of stealing points. Has-beens have been resurrected, heroes have been found. It has been great to see and has added to games where the glamour perhaps would have rendered a game a little less lustrous, such as the enthralling Hungary Vs Austria match.
This has all been overshadowed though. Unless the violence stops, this tournament may itself be consigned to where the troublemakers deserve to be sent – to the wilderness. France 2016 has it all so far, and there is no clear winner. Let us all hope that by the end, we can have a retrospective look at the event that is currently taking place – and have fond memories, rather than regrets thanks to idiots.