The governing body did so after England s semi-final victory over Denmark and the scenes were ten times worse than then. Having covered football across the world, you do become slightly inured to the goings on inside and outside a stadium. Incidents that should be viewed as eye-opening perhaps aren’t treated as such. Being present during outbreaks of fighting between fans is just a hazard of the job. It happens. Marseille in 2016 when England played Russia at the European Championships was fairly menacing, I recall, as was the World Cup quarter final between England and Argentina in the same country, St Etienne this time, during France '98.
Last Sunday felt different in that there was really only one set of supporters to be seen. Most of the trouble – and you knew it was coming as soon as you reached the top of the stairs at Wembley Park tube station, indeed, you could smell it in the air – would come from England fan fighting England fan or in battles with security, or what security there was.
That’s not to say those relatively few Italy supporters present would not have been discomfited. Any in the tube carriages spewing people out onto platforms at Wembley would likely have had to put up with chants such as “You can stick your leaning tower up your ar*e!” Other versions included genius pasta and pizza references.
Mildly amusing in some instances, perhaps, but not in a crowded tube carriage and when bellowed out by groups of inebriated, heavyset males. A few days earlier at the Scottish Open a fairly low scale security breach – odd, rather than potentially threatening - had created headlines when a male intruder in his mid-thirties made it onto the tee at the Renaissance club near North Berwick and plucked an iron from Rory McIlroy’s bag. The absence of police or any form of security was remarked upon.
It was, though, shortly after 8am in the morning. The tournament itself was only attended by a smattering of spectators. At Wembley, however, there were an estimated 200,000 in and around the stadium. Around 66,000 were inside although we now know it was many more. Outside it was chaos. A friend who had been lucky enough to get a ticket in the ballot last year and had booked a room at a hotel nearby sent me a video of the scenes on Wembley Way at 11am. Hundreds had already gathered. “Drinking well and truly underway,” he wrote. With shops selling booze up either side of the walkway, it was an easy carry out session to organise.
By the time I reached Wembley Way – or Olympic Way, it’s official name – at 5.30pm it was drunken bacchanalia of a level rarely seen before. And I’ve been to T in the Park. The noise was deafening. What was noticeable was the number of fans waiting to go back into the centre of London on the opposite platform to watch the game in bars and continue drinking, having already enjoyed – though that hardly seems the right word for something that looked so unenjoyable – several hours of carousing in the shadow of Wembley.
The main thoroughfare to the stadium was a river of humans as far as the eye could see. Every footstep was accompanied by a crunch. Glass was strewn all around and you also had to keep an eye out for bottles flying overhead. There was more than one fan with blood streaming from a head wound.
And where were the police? As far as I could see, nowhere. At Old Firm games, for example, you are used to seeing lines of armoured vans combined with a heavy police presence on the ground. Many will be kitted out in riot gear. At Wembley this just did not seem apparent. Fans were jumping up and down on the roof of official Uefa merchandise stalls which had been forced to slam their shutters down early. The smell of weed was everywhere. I’d already seen someone flash a bag of coke on the tube to a new friend they’d made, as if to say: “We’re sorted”. It wasn’t only drunken fans that the authorities had to worry about.
On the platform, a firework was being transferred surreptitiously between fans - it might even have been the famous flare later inserted into an England fan’s bum. This exchange did not need to be surreptitious. There was no one around to do anything about it. Admittedly, the sheer volume of people made it difficult to see how there could be eyes on everything going on anyway.
At the media entrance, two fans tried to make a dash for it but were huckled out before they got to the main door. That barely registered compared to what happened at other gates elsewhere. But it underlined the feeling that seemed to abound: lack of a ticket was not being treated as an impediment to getting into England’s biggest match since 1966.
I noticed in the Times last week that a writer has reflected on his own experiences of being involved in the crowd chaos on Sunday. A few days earlier, the same writer had written of the “primal thrill” of being at Wembley on such big-game occasions. There’s the rub. Atmospheres that crackle with tension are savoured. A sense of danger can heighten the thrill. Last Sunday night clearly spilled over into something else.
It seems pertinent to reflect that on the morning of the match the greatest anxiety with regards to crowd behaviour seemed to be whether or not the Italian national anthem would be respected by the fans.
On the whole, I thought it was – although this still appears on the Uefa charge sheet. The failures were rather more intrinsic and ultimately problematic for the authorities. Uefa will implement another fine, no doubt. However, the repercussions could be more damaging to England’s pocket in the long run if a planned World Cup 2030 bid is nixed because of the extent of the chaos.