Everything seemed like England could finally win a major international tournament, after a long, long wait. All the forces were pulling in that direction. Manager Gareth Southgate had a mentally strong team ready to shine, English vaccine rollout with half of the population fully vaccinated was seen as a big success, and the one who did the most was English Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
A couple of weeks ago, London risked losing the rights to host the final of the EURO 2020 at Wembley if the COVID restrictions didn’t change… for a certain group of people. UEFA wanted its football officials and VIP guests to be exempt from quarantine rules. Johnson said ‘OK’ and gave them what they wanted. To make sure the final doesn’t go to Budapest, he also gave permission for around 65 000 fans to attend the semi-finals and the final match at Wembley instead of the planned 45 000. The Prime Minister achieved the deal with UEFA only a few days after his government had delayed the end of national lockdown for another month due to, as it was stated concerning rise of the Delta variant.
The government was heavily criticised for hypocrisy those days, but then on the last weekend of June everything changed. On the same day that London was rocked by a huge protest when hundreds of thousands of people protested against lockdown, Matt Hancock resigned from the position of Health Secretary. Sajid Javid was appointed as the new Health Secretary, and the political COVID communication shifted completely. There was no fear of the Delta virus anymore, the public was told that lockdown would definitely end on July 19 and that people would need to learn to live with COVID as they have lived with common flu. With massively decreased virus talks, the whole country could focus on football and the final stages of the Euros.
And that brings us to Sunday, July 11 – the final match of the EURO 2020, England against Italy. Hundreds of thousands of English fans came to Wembley. They kept coming from the morning until the game in the evening. Only 60 000 of them had tickets for the game. Others came to party despite being told not to come if they didn’t have tickets. Very few fans took that order seriously after the massive shift of the COVID narrative started dominating the public space. Fans partied hard instead.
There was a lot of alcohol, cocaine and violence. Fans were throwing glass bottles at each other and fighting the whole day. Many of seven thousand Italian fans ended up abused or even beaten up. Hospitals were loaded with work, while the police didn’t have much intention to put the situation under control. They would only react when a horde of fans would attempt to knock down the fence and get into the stadium without tickets. There were tens of massive security breaches at the stadium and the police managed to prevent only a few of them.
Thousands of fans got into the stadium illegally. Ticket holders complained later that they could not watch the game because there were two people in one seat in some rows. Meanwhile the official procedure requires fans with tickets to show a COVID certificate; either proof of vaccination or a negative antigen test, in order to enter the stadium.
The government’s hypocrisy, which has one set of COVID rules for a certain group of people, changes the narrative of the pandemic when it suits football tournaments and imposes COVID certificate, obviously created resistance on the part of the public. This time it resulted in one of the biggest security breaches in the modern era of English football.
Source: Karlo Tasler| AIPS Young Reporter – England