Dave Hill: Let's hear it for the fans (until the riots begin)

I think the more attractive kinds of Englishness will prevail

Related Topics

After all the anticipation and offering up of prayers to Metatarsal, God of Toes, we're off. The defeat of Paraguay was not a dazzling victory but good enough. If our hopes are disappointed, it won't be for want of support from the stands. An estimated 50,000 England fans are in Germany, and most were in the stadium yesterday.

In fact, they dominated the occasion: their customised flags of St George showed that they'd come to Frankfurt from everywhere to bask in sunshine every bit as bright as here and witness the fulfilment of their dreams. A stirring sight for many, not least the former England striker Ian Wright, a patriotic member of the BBC's pundit team. "You have to say we've got the best supporters here," he enthused. "There's no one else like us."

Well, there are the Brazilians, the Dutch and a few more but Wright might be forgiven his partialness. With the caveat that booze, long opening hours and football are bound to give rise to the odd flare-up (such as those yesterday at Canary Wharf and elsewhere), England's fans abroad are gradually shaking off the "xenophobic mob" tag they used to have. The cheery pictures of English fans in Germany, including a notably exuberant Freddie Flintoff before yesterday's game, have fuelled a well-founded optimism, whatever may have gone on at home.

In past decades any such summer exodus to continental Europe stirred understandable foreboding. The majority never looked for trouble but a hard core of thugs and a general air of negativity meant that trouble had a way of finding them. The difference this time has been the more striking, given that the host nation is still perceived by many here as the enemy. The last time Germany staged a major football competition was in 1988 when the European championship was held there. I was among the travelling fans who witnessed at first hand the version of Englishness that dominated at the time.

Before a match against Ireland in Stuttgart, a bunch of "our boys" took possession of some steps in the town centre, gave a few beered-up renditions of "God Save the Queen", chased a black boy down the street, then chanted "Sieg Heil" until the riot police moved in. Later, in our heavily policed segment of the ground, a Mexican wave came crashing our way, but we didn't join in. "We" were the English and "we" didn't do that kind of thing.

Things have improved since then. Yes, there have been further clashes involving England supporters in mainland Europe (Marseille, 1998 and Charleroi, 2000), but the real turning point had already been reached back with Italy 1990. That tournament ended up being about Gazza's tears and England fans singing about having a disco drowning out those still spoiling for war.

These days our travelling support is both bigger and friendlier. On Friday in Frankfurt England fans were shown on television drinking and mingling cheerfully with local Germans. "It's fun to make party with the Englands," one of them smiled. This was good to see. And I am fairly confident that the more attractive varieties of Englishness will prevail on the pitch and off.

I write this in the sunshine. England has had a satisfactory start in the World Cup. By the time you read this, dear reader, I may have been horribly embarrassed. We may have had news of mobs running amok, stabbings, fights in bars, goose-stepping and the like. Yet, I insist, they will relate to a small minority. Let us dare to hope than whatever befalls David Beckham and his team-mates, those cheering him on continue to personify a kind of Englishness that all England can live with happily. The trend is away from loutishness. Really.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Process Improvement Analyst (Testing)

£40000 - £45000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is curr...

Service Delivery Manager - Derivatives, Support,

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Service Delivery Manager - (Derivatives, Support...

Technical Account Manager - Java, FIX Protocol, FIX 5.0, C++

£30000 - £55000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Technical Account Manager - Java,...

WPF .NET Developer

£300 - £350 per day: Harrington Starr: WPF Analyst Programmer NET, WPF, C#, M...

Day In a Page

Read Next

The daily catch-up: heatwave update; duck tape and market socialism

John Rentoul
David Cameron's 'compassionate conservatism' is now lying on its back  

Tory modernisation has failed under David Cameron

Michael Dugher
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform