Hooliganism is kicking-off again just in time for football showpiece
I have one major wish for football's European Championships, which kick-off in France this week.
Do I want England to win? Of course, I do. Do I want to see England boss Roy Hodgson give youth its head and play the likes of Dele Alli, Harry Kane, Jamie Vardy and co from the start? Of course, I do.
Do I want to see lots of attacking football and lots of goals on my TV screen? Of course, I do.
But my real hope for the tournament is simple — let’s keep it free from trouble among the supporters, in particular those following England and Wales.
Too many times in the past we have seen our TV screens filled with images of brawling so-called England fans at major football championships.
At the 2000 tournament in Belgium, for example, Uefa threatened Kevin Keegan’s team with expulsion after a weekend of violence in Charleroi and Brussels,
Eight years earlier violence by English hooligans in Malmo and Stockholm at the championships in Sweden raised doubts over whether England should host the 1996 tournament.
There are many more examples of problems involving English fans at European Championships, not to mention World Cups.
I sincerely hope that those dark days of the 1980s and 1990s are well behind us. But I am not convinced any more.
Just look at the idiots who turned West Ham’s last match at the Boleyn Ground into sharp focus for all the wrong reasons just a few weeks ago.
Instead of concentrating on the celebrations on the pitch — a terrific game and a parade of former players — the media and footballing authorities had to look at why yobs hurled bottles at the Manchester United team bus and forced riot police to be drafted in.
Then the Scottish Cup final was shamed.
Scenes of joy as Hibs won their first cup for 114 years were turned into scenes of disgrace as the players and TV viewers watched in disbelief as fans invaded the pitch, allegedly assaulted some of the players, fought with each other, destroyed a goal and areas of the pitch, and delayed the trophy presentation ceremony.
Perhaps we all thought football and off-the-field violence had gone away. It hasn’t.
At least the authorities are prepared for it this time at the European Championships.
Sadly, for the genuine fan who likes a drink in a social atmosphere before a big game, there will be a 24-hour ban on drinking alcohol on the streets in the city of Lens before the crunch clash between England and Wales on Thursday, 16th June.
French authorities will also search cars travelling into Lens for alcohol and fans without tickets for the match or a fan zone have been told not to travel.
The ban is in place for all matches at the venue during the European Championships.
It is a sad state of affairs, but a sensible precaution as football violence rears its ugly head again.
Let’s just hope that all my dreams for the tournament, featuring 24 teams for the first time, come true.
There is a chance that the thugs won’t win and surely for the first time for many years England fans must be optimistic that we will go to a major finals and actually pose a goal threat?
The only worries on the pitch concern a nervous defence — perhaps our weakest link for the first time — and the fact we are playing one of the other home nations.
The clash with Wales could be pivotal — both on and off the pitch.