Written by Gavin, from London, UK
Chaos That Never Was
If you’d listened closely to the media narrative that preceded the festival of football that was World Cup Russia 2018, you would have been forgiven for thinking this global sporting spectacle was going to be reduced to nothing more than one massive pitched battle on the streets of Nizhny Novgorod and Volgograd.
Should have the predictions made by the mainstream press have been proved correct, then the action on the pitch would have been a mere footnote when compared to the troubling scenes of English and Russian ultra fans battling each other outside bars and restaurants.
As a longstanding England fan, I was well aware of the reputation that a certain group of our fans had in the wider footballing world, especially after the scenes in Marseille at France 98. The vast majority of England Fans, myself included, saw this behaviour as an absolute embarrassment to our country and our game.
The fact that was being perpetrated by such a small group of these so-called fans made it even more galling and the fact that we were being told through official channels to watch for attacks from equally violent Russian ultras, meant that we were worried about going….very worried in fact.
A Festival of Footballing Skill
What transpired during the warm summer months of 2018 was nothing short of spectacular, but for all the right reasons.
The football was fast, skillful and full of goals, with the hosts exceeding all their own expectations and kicking off the tournament with a 5-0 thrashing of Saudi Arabia. The fact that the home nation performed so well, right from the beginning, seemed to light the touch paper on a World Cup that will go down as one of the very best in living memory.
Of course, the fact that England got further than we have since the days of Paul Gascoigne and Gary Lineker in 1990, also helped to make for a magical summer of football.
So, what happened to all the trouble that we’d all be warned about?
Zero, Nothing, Zilch
Aside from the usual amount of frivolity and high spirits that you’d would expect when vast quantities of beer are drunk, there was next to no trouble at all, anywhere. This was, I think, in part due to the fact that England were winning games and progressing in the tournament, but also due to a lack of provocation of the non existent and much publicised Russian ultras.
Scaremongering, Tight Police Control or Good Spirits?
So, how did those in the media who were supposedly in the know, get it so wrong? The reality of World Cup 2018 was a long way from what were led to believe might happen and for my mind, there were three distinct possibilities, as to why this was the case.
Reason 1: The first possibility is that the media either decided to deliberately exaggerate the dangers in the hope of creating a bigger news story or simply got their facts wrong in relation to the dangers that existed. In either sense, if either one of these is true, then the media let us all down in their irresponsible reporting. Myself and a number my friends decided against going to Russia because of what they’d heard, meaning that we all missed out on what would have been an awesome time, for no apparent reason.
Reason 2: The other possibility is that the threat did indeed exist and it was expertly dealt with by the Russian authorities. For a number of years, the UK police have been very proactive in preventing known troublemakers leaving the country, meaning that much of the threat from our side was nipped in the bud before it even had a chance get to Russia and start creating havoc. If the police in Russia did much the same thing in Russia, there’s a very real possibility that this stopped anything happening between rival fans.
Reason 3: The third possibility is related to the enormous good feeling that was fostered during the World Cup in the Russian and English camps. Both national teams got much further in the competition than they expected to and this resulted in a hugely positive vibe in both countries. The fact is that most trouble occurs when fans are not happy and the English and Russian fans had much to celebrate, right up until the last week or two of the competition.
The Media Let Us All Down
In truth, we’ll probably never know what the exact reasons for the lack of trouble were at World Cup 2018. It might well have been a mixture of a number of factors, but it has to be said that the media’s coverage of the situation prior to the World Cup really didn’t help. The english press has never shied away from writing stories that denigrate the English football team and the reputation of its supporters and perhaps this time they went too far - depriving many fans...including myself...from what would have been one of the best footballing summers of our lives.
England haven’t done so well since 1990 and they may never get to the Semi Finals again during my lifetime and the fact that I missed being there because of the fears propagated by the press, saddens me greatly. That said, it was a fantastic World Cup and one that Russia should feel justifiably proud of, as it had every bit of drama that you could possibly want, with everything happening where it mattered...on the pitch.
What the experience of Russia 2018 has taught us is that we shouldn’t believe everything we see in the printed and online media, as sometimes, they get it very wrong. There are literally billions of true football fans around the world and an entirely insignificant amount of hooligans (not football fans) out there who shouldn’t be allowed to spoil the beautiful game for the rest of us.
If we all start thinking for ourselves and ignoring the media, then that might just happen.