Category Archives: Football

Football and anti-Semitism

The debate about the use of the word ‘Yid’ in football is all over the papers at the moment, including, with breathtaking insensitivity, this front page. I’m not easily offended, but found this headline is horrendous.

The topic of Jews and English football is the subject of an exhibition, Four Four Jew, opening next month at the Jewish Museum London. I interviewed the curator and we touched on the controversy around the ‘Y word’ , as she phrased it. She said that while the exhibition would look at the use of ‘Yid’ it ‘wouldn’t come down on either side of the argument’.

Ultimately, whether you are comfortable calling somebody a ‘Yid’, either in support or in hate, is a personal decision. I made up my mind where I stand a long time ago and here is an updated version of an article I wrote on the subject in Time Out a few years ago.

———

I’d been calling Spurs ‘the Yids’ for a couple of years before my dad told me it was racist. ‘Don’t you know it’s anti-Semitic?’ he said. I didn’t, nor had I worked it out from one of my favourite Chelsea chants: ‘He’s only a poor little Yiddo/He stands at the back of the Shelf/He goes to the bar/To buy a lager/And only buys one for himself’. Racial stereotypes were clearly not one of my strong points as a 13-year-old.

I’d like to say that I immediately stopped using the word, but I didn’t. Chelsea fans – like those at Arsenal and West Ham – had been calling Tottenham ‘Yids’ for decades. Given that Spurs devotees called themselves the ‘Yid army’ I didn’t see how it caused any harm. I didn’t consider it racist or anti-Semitic, just a near-the-knuckle nickname for a rival football club.

I’ve stopped now. The eureka moment for me came when I was at a game in the mid-90s. Chelsea fan David Baddiel, who is Jewish, was spotted by the crowd after half-time as he returned to his seat with a cup of tea, and several hundred people began chanting ‘Yiddo, Yiddo’ at him, in what I imagine they considered to be an affectionate manner. Baddiel smiled it off – but the penny dropped that this was straightforward racist abuse. Baddiel later wrote:  ‘I told myself that it didn’t matter, that for most of these fans, “Yiddo” simply meant a Tottenham player or fan and that the negativity was about that and not about race.’ However, when Chelsea fans aimed the chant at non-Tottenham Israeli players, Baddiel ‘realised “Yiddo” may mean Tottenham fan but it also means Jew.’ He has since become an outspoken opponent of the use of the word by all supporters, earning him much scorn from Spurs fans. 

It used to be worse. In the 1980s hissing to imitate the release of gas was said to be commonplace, but I have never heard this – or chants about Auschwitz, bar from two drunks on The Shed in a League Cup tie in 1990 –  in more than 25 years of attending Chelsea-Spurs fixtures home and away. By the early 1990s, many fans had realised that was a step too far. I’m sure it still occurs but, in my experience, it’s pretty rare. Although by all accounts, West Ham are still at it. 

The canard that hissing is regularly heard at Chelsea games is often used by Spurs fans, as they attempt to defend their own use of ‘Yid’ but Jeremy Vine, a former Times journalist and another Jewish Chelsea fan, agrees it doesn’t happen often. ‘I’m sure I would notice hissing as it would most likely come from the Matthew Harding Stand, where I sit.’ Vine stopped attending games in the 1980s due to racism and says: ‘Without doubt some of those who chant “Yid” are anti-Semites at heart… but I don’t believe all are.’ The problem is that ‘personal jibes are part of the language of the terraces. Anything goes. And so the boundaries of decency and offensiveness become blurred.’

What muddies the water further is that since the 1970s, Spurs fans have reclaimed what was originally coined as a term of abuse (nobody knows why, Tottenham being no more ‘Jewish’ than Arsenal or Chelsea). Former Chelsea chairman Ken Bates, always torn between defending Chelsea supporters while confronting their excesses, argued that, ‘It is hard to criticise Chelsea fans for calling Tottenham supporters something that they call themselves.’ Chelsea have since rejected this line and now take a zero tolerance approach. It’s worked, to some extent. My old favourite, ‘He’s only a poor little Yiddo’ is rarely heard at Stamford Bridge these days. Spurs still get plenty of abuse, but – within the ground, certainly – the tone of it is much changed. 

A few years ago, Spurs conducted a ‘full consultation exercise’ over the use of ‘Yid Army’ because of fears it led to ‘casual anti-Semitism’, but this was criticised by many of their own supporters who felt the chant united Jewish and non-Jewish Tottenham fans. ‘If you are Tottenham, you are a Yid,’ is the line many take. That is what annoyed them so much about the recent FA instruction that all uses of Yid must cease, an argument that David Cameron has now blundered into. Many argue there’s a distinction between chanting ‘Yiddo’ and singing about concentration camps, which is broadly true – unless you’re racist. I’d even go so far to contend that Spurs have won the argument – they’ve reclaimed a term of abuse. But when it leads to casually racist headlines like that published above – and let’s remember that most Jewish people who see that headline will not support Tottenham –  one wonders quite where this will end.

It is, as Joanne Rosenthal, the Jewish Museum curator, told me ‘very complicated. Even if it appears black and white the two poles are very strongly opposed. Fan culture has this nastier side and we can’t ignore it. It’s now become part of Tottenham’s heritage. It’s difficult to tell people what they can or can’t do.’

Perhaps not, and I’m a huge fan of tribalism at football, but sometimes everybody just needs to grow up and move on. Maybe that Metro headline, as trivial and offensive as it is, will give people pause for thought.

 

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North and south: the enduring hatred of Chelsea and Leeds

It was the draw every older Chelsea fan wanted. The plastic flash of the Champions League may excite shallow newcomers, but a League Cup quarter–final at Leeds is what gets the blood pumping. This is proper football, one of the juiciest rivalries in British football, a celebration of regional differences with mutual bad memories stretching back to the mid-1960s.

That’s about how long Leeds have been singing this little ditty about shooting Chelsea scum.

In the late 1970s, Chelsea fans would reciprocate by asking their Yorkshire foes, ‘Did the Ripper get your mum?’ And they’ll always have this.

The fixture will probably have the sort of ‘toxic’ atmosphere that hysterical commentators love to condemn, but it’s also the very reason people pay to watch football in numbers that dwarf that of any other sport. It’s a game that feels more important than it really is, one steeped in tribalism, history and cultural dislike, offering momentary respite from the sterility that defines the modern football-watching experience. For many fans, this is personal, this is pride.

And Chelsea-Leeds has always been huge. The TV audience for the 1970 FA Cup final replay remains the second largest for any sporting event (after the 1966 World Cup final) and it has the sixth largest TV audience of all time – more than any Champions League or European Cup final involving the self-important Establishment clubs of English football. That’s because Chelsea and Leeds had captured a hold on the national imagination since the mid-60s, when two young, stylish, streetwise sides stormed out of the Second Division within a season of each other.

So much in common but so little alike, Chelsea and Leeds set about each other with a passion in a series of increasingly ill-tempered league and cup encounters. By the time a ferocious 1967 FA Cup semi-final was settled by an awful refereeing decision – a last-minute Leeds equaliser from a rocket-like Lorimer free kick was disallowed because the Chelsea wall had moved too early – the foundations were firmly in place. Chelsea and Leeds, they didn’t get on.

‘Hate. We hated them and they hated us,’ is how Chelsea’s Ian Hutchinson once described it, and footballers are rarely so forthcoming about such things. It was a hatred mired in misconception as much as anything else, an embodiment of all of the north and south’s prejudices about each other. This was Yorkshire v London epitomised.

Chelsea considered themselves the club a la mode, King’s Road stylists, swinging London dandies who knew as much about fashion as they did football. On the pitch, they strutted and posed, playing with flair and panache – but only when they could be bothered. Off the pitch, they dressed up, grew their sideburns, hung out with  filmstars and were photographed by celebrity photographers with famous fans. No wonder George Best said Chelsea was the only other club he’d ever consider playing for.

Raquel Welch, not in a Leeds shirt

Leeds were more hardworking, more focussed, with a Yorkshire work ethic and attention to detail. They were also masters of professionalism in all its forms. Uncompromising, indomitable, they’d only turn to showboating when the opposition were already on the canvas. To make it worse, neither respected the other’s approach: Leeds thought Chelsea were flash failures; Chelsea thought Leeds were boring and nasty.

These stereotypes weren’t entirely fair – Leeds had beautiful footballers like Gray and Lorimer, Chelsea had roughnecks like Harris and Dempsey, and both teams could be said to have underachieved – but they contained more than a grain of truth. When the teams met at the 1970 FA Cup final, fireworks ensued. It must be the most enthrallingly violent games ever seen in this country. Played today, both teams would count on at least three red cards. This tackle (unpunished) is typical. I’d love to see a You Tube compilation just showing the fouls. Paul Hayward would wet himself.

As they rose together, they sank together. From the mid-70s and through much of the 1980s, both clubs endured financial turmoil, relegation, racism and hooliganism. The rivalry remained intense. At a Second Division fixture in 1984, which Chelsea won 5-0 to secure the title, Leeds fans responded by destroying Chelsea’s new scoreboard with a scaffolding pole. This was the scene at another 1980s game at Stamford Bridge, when the fixture still attracted one of the largest crowds of the day.

For a while, things calmed down. When Chelsea won the Second Division title in 1989, the fact they were playing Leeds was almost irrelevant as both sets of supporters maintained an impeccable minute’s silence the week after Hillsborough. When Leeds won the league in 1992, Chelsea fans barely flinched.

The rivalry only really picked up in 1996, when Brian Deane’s vicious ankle-stamp on Mark Hughes signalled the rebirth of Chelsea-Leeds hostilities. For the next few years, Frank Leboeuf, Lee Bowyer, Dennis Wise, Graeme Le Saux, Alan Smith and Jonathan Woodgate produced moments of quite stunning spontaneous cruelty. This was epitomised by George Graham’s side, who arrived at the Bridge in the winter of 1997 with no intention other than to kick Chelsea to pieces. It worked. Leeds had two players sent off before half time, but secured a valuable 0-0 draw. Ruud Gullit’s beautiful but fragile side were never the same.

As Chelsea rebuilt upon experienced foreign lines and David O’Leary went with native youth, the ideology again differed. This time Chelsea came out on top, picking up cups while Leeds imploded (Chelsea even scored, above, one of their greatest ever goals against Leeds). The two sides haven’t faced each other since Leeds were relegated in 2004, in which time Chelsea escaped their own financial reckoning, instead becoming one of the biggest clubs in the world. Leeds, meanwhile, have been scraping along in the lower divisions, the pain exacerbated by the fact they are now owned by much-despised former Chelsea chairman Ken Bates.

So to Elland Road, and while the two clubs have probably never experienced such a vast divergence in fortunes, the fans have been looking forward to this one for weeks. It might be epic, it might be a damp squib, but it will matter, and if we’re really lucky, it’ll be just that little bit toxic. 

Inside the FA Disciplinary Committee

A couple of years ago, I spoke to the FA about writing a piece on their disciplinary system for 4-4-2, which would involve me following a case from start to close.  It never happened, but I did receive this useful briefing document from the panel explaining the basic role they hope to fulfil. 

How do you decide what cases go before a hearing?

All cases, across our entire range (on-field, doping, agents, etc are assessed to see if there is sufficient evidence for a charge to be appropriate. This test is whether or not there is a ‘realistic prospect’ that the case will be found proved. This is consistent with other professional regulatory bodies (and the law!) and ensures that cases are not brought on flimsy evidence. It’s very important to have this objective assessment in football, where there are so many partisan views as to what took place in any given incident.

How do you prepare the case legally?

The detail of preparation obviously varies depending on the case, but broadly, all relevant evidence is gathered, then the charge is issued, and then the hearing is prepared for in light of what the person charged says in their response to the charge. The necessary preparation varies tremendously depending on the nature and length of the case eg, it may be a punch on-field that is on video, and so simple to prepare, or a doping control case involving expert witnesses giving evidence on the effect of certain chemicals on the body, how long they remain in the system for etc.

Do players, clubs and managers have legal representation?

Often yes, but this tends to vary with the level (and wealth) of the club.

Is it like a court case, with witnesses, cross examinations etc?

Yes, as with any professional regulation tribunal, it’s very much like a magistrates’ court.

Do you all sit in a room watching replays of the same incident from different angles?

Yes, all relevant evidence is considered, and so if it is an incident caught on video, then all available angles will be looked at.

What sort of evidence is permitted?

The overriding test is always whether the evidence is relevant. The law of the land is also followed. Within those two limits, all types of evidence may be used.

What have been the most difficult cases?

That’s a very difficult one to answer, as cases vary tremendously. Some can be technically difficult (doping, agents cases involving complex transactions) and long. Sometimes you have to ensure that any high profile personalities (or issues where a case has been all over the media) involved do not overshadow the actual issues that need to be focused on, but probably the most difficult are when a person is not legally represented, as then you have a dual role to present the case for the FA but also to assist the other party a great deal to ensure fairness.

Are bigger clubs tougher to deal with than smaller clubs?

Not as a general rule. Dealing with people with no legal representation can sometimes be very difficult and that will often be smaller clubs. Whilst big clubs may use lawyers, this does not necessarily make it tougher – it can help to take the emotion out of it (which is often a big factor) narrow the issues and streamline the case. Many lawyers we deal with approach the cases reasonably. But of course it all depends on how sensible any particular lawyer is.

What are the benefits of the system?

We apply consistent tests to all cases, which aim to ensure that cases are only brought where it is appropriate. We have a small pool of professional (lawyers etc) people dealing with them, which helps consistency.

What are the drawbacks of the system and how could it be improved?

We need to always be aware that we are dealing with a sport, and one that excites tremendous public interest, and so we are always looking to deal with cases quickly in a way that everybody understands. However, the trick is getting the balance right; for simple on-field misbehaviour (eg, a punch caught on video), speed and simplicity is easy, and you can keep legal challenges to a minimum. However, some cases can be quite technical and lead to very involved legal issues. We are always trying to improve our system so all cases are dealt with as appropriately as possible.

Do players and managers bear a grudge?

Probably! One player n his autobiography mentioned wanting to put the lawyer who presented the doping case against him “through the wall”. Thankfully, that’s never happened, but it would be naïve to think some players and managers don’t have similar thoughts – they’re unlikely to be overjoyed with a three match suspension! That said, certainly at the time of the hearings, the vast majority are absolute gents, perfectly polite and take it all very professionally. After all, it is all part of the job…

Why I hate the Champions League

Who came third the year Arsenal won the league at Anfield in 1989? Does anybody remember? Does anybody care? Indeed, who came fourth in 2007? Third when Manchester United won the treble in 1999?

Unless you’re a fan of Nottingham Forest (1989), Liverpool (2007) or Chelsea (1999), it’s doubtful you’ll be able to answer any of those questions. And rightly so. Because finishing third or fourth is, in the greater scheme of the history of football, nothing to get excited about, it’s not interesting, important or impressive. But thanks to European football’s ridiculous obsession with the Champions League, Arsenal fans are celebrating limping home a distant third as if it is their club’s greatest achievement since the Invincibles, just one that doesn’t come with a trophy or will be remembered by anybody in a year’s time. It’s been a successful season insist fans of the biggest club in London, now seven years now without a cup, because it means they have earned the right to play in the Champions League again (until March, usually).  And they seem to believe it.

Ah, the Champions League, the bloated, vile, venal parasite of European football, with its hideous anthem and putrid stench of self-importance. How I hate this wretched competition. Yet qualifying for it is now deemed to be the greatest achievement of any club, more desired than mere trophies and finals. Clubs with trophy cabinets that used to gleam with silverware are now more interested in securing next year’s income stream, terrified about what might happen to the bank balance if they fail. Henry Norris and Arsene Wenger have more in common than we could have ever imagined when Wenger brought swashbuckling trophy-winning teary-eyed romantic football to the Emirates in 1998. Fuck success, fuck beauty, fuck romance, fuck football: give me the cash.

I don’t get it. I never have. I understand why money is important in football, but that doesn’t mean I want to have my nose rubbed in it. In 2003, Chelsea played Liverpool; the winner would finish third and qualify for the Champions League. This was, in financial terms, the biggest game in the club’s history, I was told by friends. It was more important than a cup final, they said. Well, I’ve been to a few cup finals, and that sir was no cup final. It was a squalid mudfight for cold hard cash, a stripping down of modern football to its ugliest essentials. And yet it was presented as if it was a thing to admire, and people bought into it. Why?

I hated it then and I hated it now, especially as the Champions League’s weight and wealth has expanded, rewarding failure in the rich leagues to the point where it has pretty much destroyed all European domestic football outside of England, Spain, Italy and Germany, and turning the FA Cup and League Cup into heavily sponsored footnotes. 

It’s even turned the Europa League into a joke, in England at least.  Patrice Evra said it was ’embarrassing’ that Manchester United were playing in the Europa this season, something you’d hope would make Uefa take a long, hard look at what they have done, although of course they didn’t. The Europa has its fans, but in reality it’s a sad and unlovable replacement for the splendid streamlined charms of the old Uefa and Cup Winners’ cups.

But nothing can be allowed to compete with the CL’s budget, which throws millions of pounds at so-so teams, encouraging billionaires to buy into the game in a bid to join the bunfight – something Uefa are now trying to ban without acknowledging the root cause, the disproportionate rewards offered by their beloved keynote trophy. Meanwhile, leagues, cups and the dignity and priorities of supporters all disappear beneath the whirling blades of Uefa’s deranged zombie lawnmower.

And now we have come to the extreme logic of the position, where we’re told that the main reason Chelsea should want to win the Champions League final on Saturday is so they can qualify for next year’s Champions League, as if the trophy itself is just something that comes free in a packet of corn flakes, and nobody bats an eyelid. How can this be right? What have Uefa been allowed to do to 57 years of history? And why does nobody appear to care?

We Stand Around by I, Ludicrous: the best football song ever?

I, Ludicrous were a two-piece consisting of John Prockter and David Rippingale that came together in South London through a shared love of Crystal Palace and The Fall. Formed in 1985, their greatest moment came on their 1992 album Idiots Savants in the form of a five-minute sinister, synth-led epic about being a football supporter called “We Stand Around”. The song was named Single Of The Week in NME by guest reviewers New Order despite only being available in Germany.

The lyrics are a masterful celebration of the essential pointlessness of terrace culture and football fandom, as this extended excerpt demonstrates:

We stand around in wind and rain, locked in voluntary,
All ages, all male, all swearing, all cold.
We sing and sway we punch the air,
We chant out names, we seek a wave,
In pens we huddle in corners too,
We shout out names we shout abuse.

We travel every Saturday,
We go wherever we play and pay,
spending money we cant afford,
We are the fans we go everywhere.

In groups of two we punch the air,
We sing and sway and dance and swear
We taunt the home fans humorously
The policemen eye us with ill disguised contempt.

We buy the fanzine its a con
Written by some Oxford don
who thinks he knows what’s going on.
But we know everything.
We know how much the players earn
where they live what they drink,
What happened on the Swedish tour
and why the right back was transferred.

We make a scene in every town
Our accents sting our voices loud
Old ladies in shop doors cower
We are the fans we have power?
Some have scars of well aimed boots
Some wear scarves some wear boots
The police escort eyes with ill disguised contempt

The video directed by Prockter that accompanied this minor classic has recently been put on You Tube and, like the song, is a beautiful evocation of football supporting in the late 1980s and early 1990s (the era, incidentally, when I began to attend matches). The opening sequence of floodlights and barbed wire – a typical sight at football grounds of the time – belong firmly to a different era, and here also are the crumbling stadia, the fanzines, the cheap programmes, the train journeys and the aggro. It’s a fine song and a brilliant video: enjoy.

For more on I, Ludicrous and football see this by Educated Left Foot.

London’s football gangs: 1972

 I’ve mentioned Chris Lightbown’s article on London football gangs a couple of times before, but the piece itself hasn’t been available since it was first published in Time Out in 1972. The section on West Ham was reprinted in the excellent 2008 anthology London Calling, but the full article has been confined to libraries and private collections. Until now.

It is a fascinating read. This is the first time football fan culture had ever been seriously discussed by the press, and it offers a remarkable view of life on the terraces from the terraces, free of any moralism or finger-wagging. It is a thorough and very funny piece of writing, and is probably the first time terrace legends such as Mick Greenaway and Johnny Hoy (although he is called ‘High’ here) ever saw their names in print. It’s analysis of where the different clubs draw on their support is particularly great. 

The writing is very much of its time and place – complete with mention of ‘heads’ and ‘coons’ – and also paints the picture of a time when London terrace culture was very different: the Shed was as loud as the Kop, Arsenal had the most aggressive fans in London and Spurs were just a joke, on and off the pitch. Only West Ham’s identity appears to have remained more or less the same, although older Hammers would doubtless question that.

It is a cracking piece of work. Enjoy.

Harry Redknapp lends a hand

Possibly the only interesting sentence that has ever been written about Harry Redknapp appeared 40 years ago, when Redknapp was playing West Ham. It goes:

‘It is said that when West Ham were fighting Coventry at Coventry station last year, Billy Bonds and the inevitable Harry Redknapp came along to lend a hand.’

This appears almost as an aside in Chris Lightbown’s seminal article Football Gangs in Time Out in April 1972, which looked at the mobs that followed the four big London clubs: Arsenal, Chelsea, Tottenham and West Ham.

Did Redknapp really join in a ruck in 1971? This should surely be the first question put to him if he ends up getting the England job.

Tony Adams on Arsène Wenger: ‘coaching isn’t his strong point’

I interviewed Tony Adams in May for BMI’s Voyager magazine, and we talked at length about Arsène Wenger, who is currently under all sorts of pressure at Arsenal.

To my surprise, Adams refuted the notion that Wenger completely transformed the football culture at Highbury. Received wisdom is that Wenger brought with him ‘European’ attitudes towards diet and fitness that revolutionised English football. Adams, though, insisted:

‘That’s a bit of an insult to the directors and dieticians that had been at Arsenal for years. We were reading books on diet in 1987, ten years before Arsène  walked into the club. Arsène came with his own ideas and strategies, and brought in an osteopath and acupuncturist. But there’s no secrets. Diet won’t change anything if you don’t have great players and I still ate fish and chips every week for the last six years under Arsène Wenger. Every Friday on Putney Bridge I went and got battered cod and a chip sandwich and sat there looking at the river.’

Adams says that ‘the coaching system is the same as it was under George Graham’ and feels Wenger’s biggest triumph was that he ‘walked into a squad of great players. The 1991 squad was the best I’ve ever played with. I’d love to have walked into a squad of players that good as a manager. He brought in everything he learnt, that’s what managers do. He’s a fantastic physiologist and psychologist, that’s where he excelled.’

Adams clearly holds Wenger in great esteem and affection, but seems to feel the pre-history of Arsenal – the terrific team put together by George Graham – has been unfairly forgotten. His comments are an attempt to place Wenger’s achievements in perspective and to understand that his success was only a continuation of what was started by Graham. Wenger is often credited with ending the drinking culture at Arsenal, but Adams says he’d already given up booze at this point and that was something else Wenger benefited from. This terrific interview in The Sunday Times about Graham and Wenger with Adams, Steve Bould, Nigel Winterburn and Lee Dixon seems to back up what Adams told me.

Adams went on to say, ‘Don’t get me wrong, I’m not having a go at Arsène Wenger. One of the gifts he’s got is that he’s a lovely human being and I respect him a great deal. But I’ve got to get it real, he coaching isn’t his strong point [Adams’s original phrase was far more damning, but he later asked for it to be toned down]. I love him dearly, he’s a fantastic physiologist but he’s not a great motivator. I’d just laugh at his attempts to gee us up, but I come from a different place, time and culture. But he got me in the best condition I could possibly get in to do my job, and for that I love him and have so much respect for him.’

It’s an interesting argument. The counter-argument is this goal, although in light of Adams’s comments it no longer looks quite so remarkable – just a triumphant and fit centre-half with a three-goal cushion running through a knackered, battered defence at the end of the season and belting the ball unscientifically past a beleaguered keeper. Total football, or just taking the piss?

London riots and football hooliganism

‘People were determined to smash and destroy. Windows were being smashed and the looters saw their chance. A road sign went straight through the middle of the window. Two people moved in with cardboard boxes and filled them with jumpers. These would be highly resaleable. [Others] were concentrating on the jewellers’ shops and a good few were looted. People who were probably  law-abiding citizens at any other time just went berserk. The faces of people as they went into a smashed shop and grabbed goods were amazing; all signs of reason had disappeared from their eyes. One guy came out of a shop with his eyes rolled up, his tongue hanging from an open mouth and breathing heavily. His trip into the shop had been a physical experience, and he was beginning to smile. He had dared and won. In a very short space of time, the streets had been transformed into a madhouse. Sirens blared out and police vans screeched around the streets.’

Was this Tottenham last Saturday? Brixton on Sunday? Battersea or Croydon on Monday? Manchester on Tuesday? Surely it must be from one of those occasions this week when England was forced to confront the reality of a ‘sub-educated, feral underclass’ in a post-Thatcher ‘something-for-nothing society’ (as Andrew Roberts so colourfully described it).

Well, actually no. This was way back in 1983, in tiny Luxembourg, where England fans went on a smashing and looting spree after failing to qualify for the European Championships. Football hooliganism was approaching its nadir after a 20 year spiral that had almost destroyed the national sport and left the authorities baffled at how to control it.

Mob looting by football supporters dates back to at least 1976, when Liverpool supporters descended in large groups to rob shops in St Etienne, where they were watching a European Cup tie. It soon became assimilated into the away trip –  usually while being escorted back to the station, away supporters would smash up city centres, fight the police and, if the opportunity arose, loot goods from shops: a jeweller here, a clothes shop there. Whatever could be easily lifted and carried back home.

In Colin Ward’s classic account of terrace culture ‘Steaming In’ (from which the above passage also came), he describes Chelsea fans after a game in Luton: ‘The trip back to the town station saw the mass destruction of the town centre. Shops were looted and a train was set on fire… It was said that one guy who didn’t like football but had a fetish about smashing shop windows went along to have a good night out. Nutters often tag along with football crowds just for the buzz.’

The past week’s violence certainly seemed unprecedented – and in some ways it was – but there are significant parallels with the way overwhelmingly young football fans routinely behaved in the 1970s and 1980s. There’s the casual disregard for other people’s property, the mania of the crowd, the opportunist thieving and violence, the loose organisation into gangs, the sheer thrill of anarchy, the speed of movement and the power of being able to catch the police wrong-footed.

The fear is that mass lootings will become a commonplace event, another part of our lives, as criminal gangs realise what they can get away with if there are enough of them around and as long as the law and lawmakers remain clueless at how to respond. It certainly took the authorities a long time to get a handle on how to police football, but the experience has now been completely transformed, partly because of tough sentences for hooligans, partly because of the disasters at Heysel and Hillsborough but also because the football establishment itself realised it had to change the way it regarded football supporters if the behaviour of fans was to improve.

When I watched a small group of 20 or 30 kids terrorise Hackney in broad daylight on Monday afternoon while the police stood and watched, my first instinct was that they would never have let a bunch of football supporters behave like that these days. There are always lessons to be learnt from the past, if you look in the right places.

‘Blue Is The Colour’: versions from around the world

I dimly recall watching an animated Czech film on Channel 4 many years ago, which featured a version of the Chelsea anthem Blue Is The Colour sung in Czech. (Huw Jones in the comments now reveals this to be ‘Virile Game’, by Czech genius Jan Svankmajer – it appears 1min 45secs into this clip.)

It seems I may not have imagined this. I’ve just found out that the song was indeed recorded by Czech singer Frantisek Ringo Cech as Zelená je tráva (‘Green Is The Grass’) in 1981.

Here are some Czech footballers – including the great Antonin Panenka – singing it in the 1970s.

There’s also a Danish version called Rød-hvide farver (Red and White Colours) recorded by Flemming Anthony in 1984.

And here’s a rather chirpy Finnish version, where it was recorded by Vexi Salmi and called Hoo Ji Koo, although it’s better known as Taas Kansa Täyttää. This is probably my favourite.

Here are The Proclaimers singing a pretty awful recent version, renamed ‘White Is The Colour’ for the Vancouver Whitecaps in Canada.

Also from Canada is this version, a hilarious tribute to American Football team Saskatchewan  Roughriders, in which they try to fit the entire name of the team into a rhyming scheme that was only designed for two syllables.

Away from professional recorded versions, the song has also been adapted by other football fans on the terraces. Here are fans of the Japanese club Montedio Yamagata singing it in English.

And Lazio sing a mightily impressive version of it in Italian. Only they could make such a sweet song sound intimidating. 

Finally, here’s the original being recorded by Ossie and the boys in 1972.