BLOG - Asif Burhan on England v Wales
One of the key aims of the Klick It Out campaign is to raise awareness about the impact of football-related social media discrimination.
As part of a series running throughout our campaign, we’ve talked to fans, players and broadcasters, most of whom are united in both their love of football and their experience of discriminatory abuse on social media.
In our latest feature, Asif Burhan, resident blogger for Kick It Out who detailed the first part of his experience of the European Championships here, reflects on his time in Lens for the England v Wales game.
“I got one for 150.”
“That’s really good, I’ve got 600 on me – just in case.”
“You can’t really put a price on it, it’s how much you’re willing to pay, it’s a big money game, there won’t be another one unless we reach the semi-final.”
It was the biggest match of the UEFA Euro 2016 group phase. No question. All of France’s games went on general sale, England v Wales never did. This was ‘trés grand’. A perfect storm of two passionately supported neighbours playing in the smallest stadium in the finals, as close to the British Isles as possible.
Tickets were the talk of the train north from Paris to Lens. My previous attendance at England matches had ensured I qualified for one at the face value of £42 but the vast majority of England fans were planning to scramble around in Lens for the few tickets that inevitably made it onto the black market.
At Euro 2004, I met a Dutch fan at the England v Portugal quarter-final and I asked him if he’d been at the Netherlands’ match the previous night. He pulled a face, “I’m not interested in watching the Dutch. I want to watch England, they are the most exciting team in the world.”
If those days of the “Golden Generation” have passed, there can be no doubt that watching England in a tournament match is something apart from watching any other country in the world. Other countries may have better players, better fans or more success but there is something unmistakably feral, passionate, perhaps even desperate about an England match abroad, like the best horror films.
Excitement comes in many different forms and it doesn’t always have to be a piece of skill on the pitch. That is why football has become the biggest sport in the world – its unique ability to mean so many different things to so many different people.
None of the pre-match gimmickry which had been enjoyed elsewhere as part of the interactive Euro 2016 match experience worked in this game. The entrance of the dancing mascot “Super Victor”, the cheer decibel counter, even the kiss-cam was met by the shrugging of shoulders and folded arms from the England fans until the French MC just admitted defeat. Yet when the teams came out and the national anthems sung, the noise was frightening.
However, that kind of atmosphere has often created fear and anxiety amongst the players representing them, and it did so again as England toiled in the first half. There were angry remarks about Raheem Sterling’s effort, Dele Alli’s touch, Wayne Rooney’s positioning, Harry Kane’s free-kicks… and Joe Hart. They were booed off at half-time, heading only for humiliation. We were desperate.
It is little surprise then that Jamie Vardy, with all his history, should appeal to the England fans, they themselves forever condemned by their roots and chequered past. They sung for his introduction at half-time and they were proven right as the Leicester forward’s goal-poaching instincts turned the game.
Vardy will never win everyone over, and neither will our fans, yet on this day, you would have to be made out of stone not to have been thrilled by England’s comeback. Whatever else happens now in France, the scenes which followed Daniel Sturridge’s injury-time winner will sustain many an England fan, including this one, until the next World Cup.
On the short walk back into the city of Lens, the two sets of fans mingled freely without any hint of antagonism, goading or segregation. Many of them supported the same clubs, and on the trains out to Paris and Arras, they shared their Euro 2016 experiences and plans.
Next to me sat a Russian in an England shirt, opposite were two Germans who had been to the game and were heading straight to Stade de France for that night’s match. After watching the world champions play out the first scoreless draw of the finals even they might have admitted, on this day at least, England were the most exciting team to watch.