Britain failed its audition for the 2030 World Cup on a night when pride at the England team’s performance at the European Championship was mingled with shame at the behaviour of a sizeable minority of supporters.
On what should have been the most unforgettable occasion for English football in a generation, there were elements the country would rather forget, as ticketless fans stormed Wembley and clashed with police and stewards, and ugly scenes broke out elsewhere in the capital.
There were widespread reports of supporters with tickets unable to take their seats, Italy fans harassed and terrified children in tears — their happiest memory briefly turned into a nightmare — amid widespread and alcohol-fuelled antisocial behaviour.
UEFA are awaiting an official report on the trouble, which was expected today, before deciding on action, but the tournament organisers have questions to answer, including over the 8pm kick-off, which was needlessly late for a European final, and the lack of a perimeter around Wembley.
The FA are also plotting a full review and have vowed to learn from a chastening night off the pitch. Privately, though, there is a view within English football’s governing body that there was little they could have done to prepare for the mayhem, amid fears it is start of a wider trend of unruly supporters storming stadiums, after Manchester United’s match against Liverpool was postponed last season when fans breached Old Trafford.
The context was dramatically different, though, and points to an ugly underbelly which still permeates England’s supporter-base.
The FA said the supporters had “embarrassed the England team” and the scenes were certainly a poor way to repay the players for their efforts at the Euros.
The biggest difference between this England squad and previous generations is that they seem to represent the best of us.
From Jordan Henderson’s support for the NHS during the pandemic, to Marcus Rashford’s campaign to feed hungry children and the whole squad’s commitment to equality in taking the knee, these players offer a picture of the country as we would like it to be.
They are principled, unified, inclusive, morally courageous, fearless, talented, patriotic and proud — all qualities also reflected in their manager, Gareth Southgate.
The fans who stormed Wembley and ransacked central London last night really need to find a way to respond and reflect the qualities of the players they are purporting to support.
There was a time when it was often said England did not deserve such unwavering backing from the fans who followed them to far-flung corners of Europe, with little reward but consistent and familiar failure and a seeming hesitance to embrace what it means to wear the England shirt.
Now the narrative has shifted. These players deserve better than the supporters who stormed Wembley and disrupted the capital, ultimately distracting from England’s remarkable success at this tournament.