Alan Hubbard

We have endured COVID-19, inflicted on us courtesy of China, we are told, and are now in the throes of something called monkeypox which apparently emanates from Africa. But a new pandemic looms and this time it is unquestionably an English disease.

That was the name given to the lengthy outbreak of football hooliganism during the 1980s, and it seems it has now returned with a vengeance.

The recent episodes of violence and thuggery among some elements of fans is sadly reminiscent of the dark days when the Beautiful Game was morphing into the Booty-full Game, top players almost obscenely enriched and crowds out of control.

A week of shame concluded on Sunday (May 22) last weekend with a mass invasion at Etihad Stadium after Manchester City had clinched the Premier League title with a breathtaking 3-2 victory after being 2-0 down against Aston Villa.

Thousands of fans surged on to the field, literally fighting a pitched battle. An invasion which has shocked the nation. The Villa goalkeeper Robin Olsen became the latest victim of crowd violence when he was attacked during City’s so-called "celebrations".

Earlier in the week they were also once-familiar ugly scenes at Goodison Park and Port Vale after fans spill onto the pitch, while a season ticket-holder was jailed for 24 weeks for headbutting Sheffield United forward Billy Sharp in the Championship playoffs at Nottingham Forest. The player needed medical attention. A day later Mansfield Town's Jordan Bowery was barged by a Northampton Town fan who ran onto the pitch near the end of their League Two playoff game, which Mansfield won 1-0.

Manchester City fans celebrated winning the Premier League by destroying a goal in their own stadium ©Getty Images
Manchester City fans celebrated winning the Premier League by destroying a goal in their own stadium ©Getty Images

There was also another pitch invasion at Port Vale where the home side triumphed on penalties over Swindon Town. Port Vale fans charged onto the pitch to celebrate but some immediately ran over to throw punches at Swindon players.

Why on earth supporters of winning teams such at City, Mansfield and Port Vale would do this is something the English Football Association (FA) will have to ponder on during its many investigations into this fresh outburst of yobbish behaviour.

On Sunday, TV viewers we’re shocked by the scenes at the Etihad, where the pitch was literally filled by invading fans. True, the vast majority were enjoying a joyous celebration but many others were intent on causing mayhem.

This included the unseemly sight of a young teenage girl straddling an already-broken goalpost, riding it as if it were a horse.

Police later announced there had been two arrests, one for an assault on the Villa goalkeeper and one for invading the pitch. Just one? What about the thousands of others? All broke the law just like those Westminster partygoers.

There had also been two separate occasions where Everton followers spilled onto the Goodison Park pitch initially after Dominic Calvert-Lewin’s goal which secured Everton’s Premier League survival versus Crystal Palace, and again at full time.

The latter resulted in the Palace manager, Patrick Vieira, being involved in an altercation with an Everton fan. As Vieira walking from the dugout he was goaded by the spectator who danced intimidatingly in front of him, giving the V sign. Vieira then appeared to swing a kick in his direction.

Subsequently the popular Viera avoided being charged by the FA; the incident was certainly nothing like the infant infamous episode, also involving Crystal Palace as it happens, back in January 1995 when another famous Frenchman, Eric Cantona, was sent off for kicking a Palace defender and as he was walking up towards the tunnel he launched a kung-fu type of kick at an Eagles supporter who had run down 11 rows of stairs to shout abuse at him, allegedly using the words: "Fuck off back to France, you French bastard!" Cantona followed up with a series of punches.

He was fined £20,000 ($25,000/€23,500) by Manchester United and banned for eight months by the FA.

Oh yes, those were the days, weren’t they? But last weekend was an indication that football's uglier side is back with a bang.

So much so that the England manager Gareth Southgate has this week branded the situation "a national embarrassment".

"Again that's not a good optic for our country," he said of the unruly end to the domestic season. No different to how I feel when I go on holiday and see people not behaving themselves as they should be. 

England have been ordered to play their next UEFA match behind closed doors following crowd trouble before and during the Euro 2020 final in London ©Getty Images
England have been ordered to play their next UEFA match behind closed doors following crowd trouble before and during the Euro 2020 final in London ©Getty Images

You are embarrassed if people who are English behave badly. We are all tarnished when that happens. People who are watching the season finale, that is the view of our society.

England itself has also been punished by UEFA with a one-game stadium ban for next month's Nations league match against Italy at Molineux as part of sanctions for the crowd trouble at Wembley's Euro 2020 final last year.

No doubt there will be probes into why the game has turned sour again. One theory is that the thug element are letting off steam after weeks of lockdown because of COVID, and that the current malaise of our Government has become infectious.

No one wants to see the treacherous days of perimeter fencing return but something has to be done. And soon. At the very least, this should mean lifelong bans from all grounds, much stiffer fines and longer spells of imprisonment for all miscreants.

What is worrying, particularly with the World Cup looming, is that the English Disease itself does not become unstoppably infectious too.