Telephone 0114 2587787 Email

Online resources

War Minus the Shooting?
Jingoism, the English Press and Euro '96
A critical examination of this press coverage which outlines some of the key themes in the press reporting of the Euro '96 championships. An investigation of the Select Committee's report stating that the tabloid press is primarily responsible for the xenophobia undoubtedly evident during this period.

1 Introduction

Despite the alarmist prophecies from many quarters of the British media, the Euro '96 football championships contested in England during the last three weeks of June 1996 passed off with virtually no crowd disorder. Just about the only violence which did occur followed the defeat of the English side in their semi-final match against Germany - who eventually beat the Czech Republic to win the tournament. Following the exit from the competition of the England team some clashes occurred in various towns and cities across the country. In Trafalgar Square, where the media reports suggest the worst of the violence happened, German-made cars were attacked and other property identified as German was targeted. It was reported that a Russian man was seriously assaulted by an English crowd who, not minded to distinguish between foreigners, mistook him for a German.

Following on from these events the National Heritage Select Committee quickly released a report which explicitly criticised the tabloid press for their 'xenophobic, chauvinistic and jingoistic gutter journalism' which, the MPs claimed, partly explained the anti-German violence. Against this background this paper has two aims: first a critical examination of this press coverage which outlines some of the key themes in the reporting of the championships. Secondly, and more contentiously, it is suggested that the kind of criticism made by the Select Committee report is too simplistic in its assumption that the tabloid press is primarily responsible for the xenophobia undoubtedly evident during this period. Instead, it is argued that the social and political context of Britain's relationship with the European Union (EU) in the 1990s has reinforced the xenophobia apparent in the newspapers. Whilst it would be comforting to suggest that the sensationalist tabloid press were totally to blame for the violence witnessed in Trafalgar Square and elsewhere, such reassurance cannot be drawn. In the context of British Euro-scepticism, George Orwell's famous dictum that professional sport is tantamount to 'war minus shooting' seems more appropriate than ever (Orwell, 1970: 63).

The discussion at the end of this paper partly draws on Mangan's (1996) analysis of the links between sport and militarism. He shows that the language of warfare in Britain drew heavily on sporting metaphors during the Victorian and Edwardian eras. Sporting values such as fair play, discipline and teamwork were held to be essential characteristics for the colonial soldier. It is argued below that this relationship persists to this day, although the nature of the press coverage of Euro '96 suggests that its direction has been reversed. In other words, popular cultural representations of sport are now infused with the rhetoric of warfare.


The bulk of the discussion which follows is based upon a subjective reading of the newspaper reporting of Euro '96. The Daily Mail, the Sun, the Daily Mirror, The Times, the News of the World and the Guardian newspapers were analysed from early May 1996 (one month before the championships started) until 7 July (one week after Germany lifted the trophy).(1) Not all aspects of the coverage are considered here and what follows should be regarded as a tentative examination of some of the more interesting of these. It should not be assumed that this is an exhaustive catalogue of the media coverage.

In the next section of this paper our discussion of the press coverage is divided into two periods: first, the newspapers' treatment of Euro '96 from one month prior to the tournament up until it began. In this section, some important contextual matter, such as the 'beef crisis' which strained Britain's relations with the EU, will be discussed. Secondly, we cover the duration of the championships and their immediate aftermath. Whilst differences are identified which provide an organising principle for this periodisation, it should be remembered that the two are not mutually exclusive and considerable overlap is also apparent. The key distinction between these two phases can be characterised as a transition from negative and alarmist reportage into a flag-waving and 'bullish' style. Underlying both, however, are notions of an isolated Britain under threat from other European nations.

2 First Phase: 'Hippopotami Led by Hypocrites'

The 'First Phase' of the study covers the month leading up to the start of Euro '96. During this time press coverage was typified by 'negative' stories regarding both the England team and the tournament as a whole. The newspapers' attitude towards the host nation seemed to be more destructive than constructive, providing an often contradictory mixture of criticism, hostility, reminiscence and patriotism. The overtly xenophobic and aggressively nationalistic reporting of the latter stages of the Championship was less evident during this early period.

Four broad themes emerged from this First Phase: hooliganism and its potential problems; nostalgia surrounding England's 1966 World Cup win; antipathy towards the England team following their 'antics' on the pre-tournament trip to Hong Kong; and jingoistic support on the eve of the tournament. Much of this coverage occurred in a context of considerable hostility in Britain towards the rest of the European Union over the issue of the safety of British beef (the so-called 'beef wars'). Each of these topics will now be considered in turn.

'A Savage Hooligan War'

One of the major concerns over the staging of Euro '96 was the prevention of hooliganism. Some of the teams playing in the tournament (in particular Germany, Holland, Turkey, Italy) had a minority of supporters with a reputation for violence, and England's troublemakers were widely regarded as the 'super hooligans of Europe' (Garland and Rowe, 1995). With around 200,000 visiting fans expected, the logistics of the policing operation were necessarily extensive. However, the police preparation for the tournament(2) was undertaken against a backdrop of newspaper stories that often exaggerated the potential problems, instead of playing down the prospect of disorder. 'Baby-faced Feuhrer to blitz Euro '96' warned the News of the World (May 19, pp20-21), continuing:

Today we expose the German psychopath hell-bent on turning England's Euro '96 soccer championships into a bloodbath.

The self-styled Feuhrer of thuggery, baby-faced Ronald Kirsch, has already drawn up his masterplan for terror and plans to invade with an army of yobs.

The report proceeded to detail the plans of German hooligan gangs organising to fight their English equivalents, and encouraged readers to 'Shop a yob to the News of the World' with the phrase 'Only with your help can we start to stamp out this horror'.

This provocative and alarmist coverage of the hooliganism issue was reflected in other tabloids (the Daily Mirror, June 5, p11; the Sun, May 25, p17). The Daily Mail (June 6, p80) stated that:

... 2,000 England fans will be at the [Scotland versus Holland] game, many intent on causing trouble with both the Scots and Dutch supporters.

The Sunday Mirror, in an article about two Italian ticket agents operating in London, 'Soccer terror twins in Euro '96 tickets scandal', (June 2, pp4-5) reported that:

A massive security fiasco has left the Euro '96 soccer championship in serious danger of turning into a savage hooligan war.

Two convicted neo-Nazi terrorists, wanted for questioning about a horrific bomb massacre that killed 85 people, have become official ticket agents for the games.

Scare-mongering was not restricted to the tabloids. On successive days (20 May, p4 and 21 May, p8) The Times carried headlines of 'Neo-fascists aim to stamp their mark on Euro '96'(3) and 'Nazi label obscures two tribes who just want to go to war'. Both pieces had an accompanying graphic incorporating the Euro '96 logo next to the words 'Soccer Violence', thereby associating the two before a ball had even been kicked in the tournament.(4)

Many of these articles had a common theme: that of foreign 'nazis' preparing to 'invade' England, in order to cause trouble. Readers were led to believe that the streets of towns and cities were to turn into battlegrounds for fascist hooligan gangs. However, as the tournament unfolded, the friendly atmosphere of the often unsegregated crowds painted a far different picture from the one predicted above. Outbreaks of disorder were rare,(5) and far from being a 'savage hooligan war', a 'carnival-style' atmosphere was more often apparent.

The 'Bulldog Spirit'

In the days immediately before the Championships began many newspapers indulged in patriotic reminiscence over England's 4-2 victory over West Germany in the 1966 World Cup Final. 'We did it in '66, we'll do it in '96' was a recurrent theme in much of the coverage, and the whole of the 1966 Final was replayed on television before the tournament started. When it was discovered that the ball used in the match had been appropriated by a German player (Helmut Haller), and taken back to Germany, the Daily Mirror and the Sun entered into a battle to bring it back to England, and present it to Geoff Hurst, England's 'hat-trick hero' of the Final.

Trivial though this quest may seem, the battle for 'Geoff Hurst's ball' soon generated a number of anti-German stories and features. 'Greediest Krauts on Earth' said the Sun's front cover (April 26, p1) about Haller's alleged cash demands for a photo of the ball. Inside the same edition (pp 4-5), a double-page spread showed stereotypical images of Germans as sunbed-grabbing, mean-spirited autocrats.

The Daily Mirror, claiming victory in the race to recover the ball, recreated Geoff Hurst's last goal in the 1966 Final (April 29, p10-11). Nostalgia for England's only tournament victory was a recurrent theme throughout the next month, reflecting a desperate desire for sporting success. Football would appear to have been a way of demonstrating that England was still a significant player on the world stage. This harking back to a more glorious era of national success was echoed in the tournament's slogan 'Football's Coming Home' and the repeated allusions to the fact that Euro '96 was being played during the thirtieth anniversary of England's greatest footballing triumph.

The patriotic and occasionally xenophobic line of many of the dailies occurred in a political climate of barely-concealed hostility towards the European Union from certain sections of the Conservative Party. This situation had deteriorated in the period before Euro '96 as Britain's EU partners had agreed a ban on the sale of British beef amid widespread fears that Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (B.S.E.) may be linked to Creutzfeld-Jacob Disease, its human equivalent. The British Government responded to this ban by developing a policy of non co-operation with the European Union.

The Sun reported the situation as being the 'Cattle of Britain' (May 22, p4-5), next to a photograph of Sir Winston Churchill, and continued:

In a showdown on a scale rarely seen since the Battle of Britain, the beef fiasco has forced us to fight to save our traditions and freedoms.

During our finest hour, in 1940, leader Sir Winston Churchill inspired the nation with his historic words "Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few".

In 1996, we must draw on that bulldog spirit again - and show one of Sir Winnie's famous V-signs to the boors of Berlin, the killjoys of Cologne and the mutts of Munich.

The paper displayed a list of ways it claimed 'to hit back at the nations that voted against us' ('20 things to steer clear of', p4), which included numerous offensive stereotypes of those from other EU nations, and in particular Germany. It even encouraged readers to play videos of the 1966 World Cup Final to German tourists. References to World War Two were made even more explicitly by the Daily Mirror in the lead-up to the England versus Germany semi-final, discussed in more detail below.

'This Should Be Our Finest Hour'

The heady mixture of xenophobia, nationalism and football outlined above was to resurface in later newspaper coverage of Euro '96 (as we discuss below). However, in the five days leading up to England's first match of the championship (versus Switzerland, 8 June), the attitude of the English press towards their national side veered from jingoistic support to open hostility.

The criticisms centred around the English team's pre-tournament trip to Hong Kong, where some players were photographed having a drunken party in a nightclub, and were later accused of causing £5,000 worth of damage to a Cathay Pacific aeroplane cabin on the flight home. These incidents fed a tabloid press hungry for headlines, and amidst calls for the coach to be sacked and certain players dropped from the side, the Daily Mirror on June 4 talked of 'England ratbags' (p1), 'England shame' (pp34-35), and claimed that the team were the 'laughing stock of the world' (p36). The same paper continued in a similar vein the next day ('Jumbo liars' p28, 'Shame of England' p26), in a mode of coverage similar to that of other newspapers.

Some of the most stringent criticism of the team came from The Times editorial (June 4, p19). As well as calling the party 'idiotic' and the alleged damage 'criminal' and 'dangerous', it commented:

The impression is not so much of lions led by donkeys as of hippopotami led by hypocrites ... the footballing authorities and their young men need to rediscover ... old English values of discipline, modesty and common sense.

However, as the tournament approached, much of the newspaper coverage contrasted its earlier hostility to the English side with shows of jingoistic support. wave your scarf for england clamoured the Daily Mirror (June 8, p30-32), whilst the Sun urged its readers to 'Roar for England' (June 5, p5), and echoed wartime speeches in its editorial of June 8 (p6):

England expects every fan to do his duty. ... Let's show Europe that the people who invented the game can still play it the best. Let's be proud of our country and our flag ... This should be our finest hour.

To summarise, then, this First Phase was characterised by its ambivalence and confusion. Whilst there was much jingoism and expectation of a repeat of former glories, there was also considerable negativity directed at both the England team and the gangs of hooligans apparently preparing for disorder. In the context of military metaphors surrounding the engagement in a so-called 'beef war' with the EU, images of England under threat of invasion from the continent (especially from 'nazi hordes') were particularly resonant. During the Second Phase outlined below, these themes of warfare and anti-foreigner rhetoric became even more apparent.

3 Second Phase: From 'Traitor' to Hero

The Second Phase of the study covered the period from England's first match on June 8th against Switzerland, through to 7 July, when the tournament faded from the news agenda. During this time the newspaper coverage swung dramatically from a position of harsh criticism of the team to one of wholehearted support. Cynicism was replaced by euphoric and jingoistic praise, and, as England reached the latter stages of the tournament, by overt nationalism and xenophobia. Concurrent with this switch was a disappearance of the hooligan scare stories, as it became apparent that the tournament was conducted in a friendly, 'festival' atmosphere.


The press reaction to England's 1-1 draw with Switzerland was one of condemnation of the team. 'The Cathay clowns are a first class Euro disaster' proclaimed the Sunday Mirror (June 9, pp76-77), whilst the Daily Mail urged that England's most gifted player be dropped ('Gazza(6) must go', June 10, p64). Other tabloids focused on the issue of alcohol: 'We are sinking in a sea of booze' said the Daily Mirror (June 11, p35), whilst the Sun reported a trip to a nightclub by three England players with 'England aces back on booze' (June 11, p1).

Angered by the reaction of the press, the England coach Terry Venables reportedly branded the team's critics 'traitors'. This drew the following response from the Daily Mirror ('Comment', June 12, p28):

Try to imagine German superstar Jurgen Klinsmann in a nightclub at 2am during the opening week of a major tournament.

It's unthinkable. In fact close to an act of disloyalty.

Tel(7) knows there's a word for that. Traitor.

In the same issue ('Tel of a mistake', p27), the Daily Mirror suggested:

Once again he [Terry Venables] has misjudged the mood of the public. For the focus is firmly on the behaviour of the team, and not how successful they are.

Ironically, as later events demonstrated, this assessment appeared a misjudgement in itself. For as the English team became more successful, a large section of the public gave it passionate support, and seemed not to care about any supposed behavioural misdemeanours.

'1966 and All That'

In the week leading up to England's second match, against Scotland on June 15, some sections of the press still emphasised the potential for disorder. 'Tartan army plots bloody Euro '96 battle with Auld Enemy' reported The Sunday Times (June 9, p24), whilst The Times (June 10, p4) carried a piece 'How I became a victim of a German thug'. This article detailed how a reporter, the 'victim', had in fact only received a 'minor cut' that was 'so small it did not need stitches'.

However, mixed into this newspaper concoction of criticism and scare-mongering were calls for support for the national side. 'Bang the drum for England' urged the Sun, (June 13, p1) and, seemingly glorifying violence, threatened 'We will McDuff you up' (p64).

In the event, a 2-0 win for the home side sparked a wave of euphoria in the press, and marked the beginning of nearly two-weeks of highly jingoistic coverage. 'Lionheart' proclaimed the News of the World (referring to Paul Gascoigne, June 16, p72), and announced:

Robert the Bruce, Billy Connolly, Rod Stewart, Craig Brown - your boys took one Tel of a beating.

The Sun explained that it had taken '60 Seconds to Stuff 'Em' (June 17, p35), and continued:

Dates are everything in Anglo-Scottish history - 1314, 1746 and now 16.39.(8)

Forget Bannockburn and forget Culloden.

In years to come students will be schooled in the precise moment Scottish forces were so heroically repelled by Lord Admiral David Seaman at Wembley on June 15.

This article, by mixing patriotism, celebration, and football with military history, encapsulated the attitude of much of the tabloid coverage during this period. For a while it appeared that victory on the football field was a demonstration of English 'greatness' that ranked alongside battle victories of the past and, for some sections of the press, there was little difference between the two. Again it was suggested that an invasion of England had been successfully thwarted.

The results in England's group meant that the team needed a draw against Holland in order to qualify for the quarter finals of Euro '96. 'Give them edam good thrashing' said the Daily Mirror (June 18, p1). In the same article, the paper urged its readers to pull up their tulips, throw out their Edam cheese and clogs and, bizarrely, suggested 'Don't go anywhere near a windmill'.

The result of the match, a 4-1 win for England, was unexpected and the performance was heralded as quite sensational. The tabloids, in complete contradiction to some of their coverage earlier in the tournament, heaped praise upon the team. 'England 4 ever' trumpeted the Sun, (June 19, p1), whilst the Daily Mirror ('Shear we go', June 19, p36) reported:

In one of the most magnificent and thrilling England displays in the last 30 years, England romped to a triumph over one of the tournament favourites.

This spirit of celebration encapsulated the euphoria that began to grip large sections of the general public. The Times, in 'So this is the feelgood factor at last' (June 20, p1) tried to capture the mood:

In 90 minutes, and four goals, football has done what a thousand speeches by government ministers, and a hundred election promises by Tony Blair, have failed to do. England feels great about itself, almost invincible ...

A David once anxious about its economy, its sporting prowess, its beef, has turned overnight into a Goliath .... Plunge your thermometer anywhere into England's psyche today and it emerges glowing red with patriotic fever.

Unsurprisingly, the press could not resist mixing celebration with nostalgia and xenophobic clichés. In 'England trample through the tulips' (June 19, p33), the Sun commented:

Holland ... wilted like their famous tulips in the heat of an English onslaught that stirred all those marvellous memories of 1966 and all that.

'The Nation That Nicked Our Fish'

In the period following England's victory over Holland until their defeat in the semi-final against the Germans, the press coverage of the home side's progress became increasingly aggressive and nationalistic. Indeed, in certain newspapers the offering of positive support for the English team became indistinguishable from xenophobic insult. For example, before England's quarter-final against Spain, the Daily Mirror warned 'You're done Juan' (June 20, p1) on a front cover that also depicted a 'mock' beheading of a Spanish matador by an English Beefeater.

Inside the same issue, the Daily Mirror listed '10 nasties Spain's given Europe' (p5), being a crude and offensive list that included 'syphilis, General Franco and carpet bombing'. The same page also featured a number of anti-Spanish jokes ('Jokers sock it to the señors') and a catalogue of Spanish military defeats ('Well they did win 425 years ago').

The Sun continued in a similar vein on its front cover ('Give 'em a Spainking', June 20, p1), where it pictured a man dressed as Sir Francis Drake (the paper's 'mascot'), with the caption: 'Drake Says Sink the Señors'. Underneath a picture of English boxer Frank Bruno holding the flag of St George, it commented:

Now the former world heavyweight champ wants to see Spain get the biggest spanking since Sir Francis Drake defeated their Armada in 1588.

The battleground is Wembley - and all England is willing Terry Venables' warriors to sink the opposition.

Thus a link between football and military victories was stressed again, and was not untypical of other tabloids in the build-up to the match against Spain (see, for example, the Daily Mirror, 'Gazza's armada' (June 21, p1)). In the wake of England's penalty shoot-out victory, xenophobic coverage was also evident: 'We kick them in the castanets' celebrated the News of the World (June 23, pp4-5), in a piece which continued:

It was the day the roar of England's lions saw off the Spanish bulls. The day we sent the paella-eaters packing.

When the penalty drama at Wembley finished, it was - of course - our boys who got the result that matadored.

For the nation that nicked our fish, there will be no plaice in the semi-finals.

A similar perception of the mood of the English public was evident in The Sunday Times ('Seaman saves the day for England's lions', June 23, p1 & p24):

English patriotism, puffed up like a bulldog on steroids, was close to bursting last night ....

... Yesterday's result capped a buoyant week for English pride, which saw an end to Britain's beef war in Europe, rising house prices, good-to-firm going at Royal Ascot and the ball from the 1966 World Cup Final going on display at Waterloo Station.

'Two World Wars and One World Cup'

England's victory against Spain drew the team against the pre-tournament favourites, Germany, in the semi-final. This was to be the first meeting between the two in a major tournament since the World Cup semi-final in 1990, and is a fixture steeped in fierce football rivalry.(9) In this instance, the match coincided with a wave of anti-German feeling generated by the so-called 'beef wars', as we have mentioned above. Placed in the context of Britain celebrating the 50th anniversary of victory in the Second World War only the year previously, the pairing of the two countries on the football field brought a predictable tabloid response. 'Let's blitz Fritz' suggested the Sun (June 24, p4), whilst the cover of the Daily Mirror (June 24, p1) said 'Achtung! Surrender' next to pictures of English footballers Pearce and Gascoigne in World War Two tin hats.

The war analogy did not end there. In 'Mirror declares football war on Germany' (June 24, p1 & p6) the Editorial stated:

I am writing to you from the Editor's Office at Canary Wharf, London.

Last night the Daily Mirror's ambassador in Berlin handed the German Government a final note stating that, unless we heard from them by 11 o'clock that they were prepared at once to withdraw their football team from Wembley, a state of soccer war would exist between us.

I have to tell you now that no such undertaking has been received, and that consequently we are at soccer war with Germany.

... May God bless you all. It is evil things we shall be fighting against - the brute force, the high tackle, the unfair penalty, the Teutonic tedium of their tactics, and the pretence of injury after a perfectly legitimate English tackle.

Against these evils, I am certain that the inside right will prevail.

Not content with echoing wartime speeches, the Daily Mirror sent a message to the German Embassy requesting their team's 'immediate withdrawal from the tournament' (June 24, p2). However, the paper revealed that:

England's old enemy - defeated in two World Wars and one World Cup - formally announced that they would stand firm on the historical battleground in North London.

What followed were more offensive and xenophobic pieces. In 'The Mirror invades Berlin' (June 24, pp2-3) the Daily Mirror reported:

There is a strange smell in Berlin ... and it's not just their funny sausages. It's the smell of fear ...

The same article included pictures captioned 'Filthy Hun' and 'Zey Don't Like It Up Zem' (a catchphrase from the World War Two-based BBC comedy Dad's Army) and the war theme continued in the cartoon 'What did you do in Euro '96, Daddy?' (p6).

The backlash against this style of coverage was strong and vociferous. The Press Complaints Commission received dozens of complaints, and the reaction from other sections of the media was equally strong. The Daily Mail stated that 'England deserves better than this orgy of jingoism' (June 25, p8), and in another article in the same issue ('This fighting talk puts us all to shame says Sir Bobby' [Charlton], p18) reported:

Asked if he would print racist headlines about West Indian cricketers, Mr Morgan [the editor of the Daily Mirror] said: 'No we wouldn't, that would be deeply offensive - but these are Germans.'

It looked as though the Daily Mirror had seriously miscalculated the nature of its coverage, and the next day the paper 'toned-down' its style. 'Peas in our time' it declared on its front page (June 25, p1), referring to a food hamper it had given to the German team as a 'goodwill gift'.

In fact, the Daily Mirror completely dropped its 'war analogy' theme, and reverted to covering issues relating to the forthcoming fixture itself. The Sun towed a similar line, providing strong and patriotic support for the England team up to the match with Germany. There was to be no repeat of the overt xenophobia of previous issues. Although not explicitly referred to, the degree of opprobrium that the Daily Mirror's coverage drew suggests that the 'football war on Germany' was the epitome of the kind of journalism condemned by the National Heritage Select Committee, mentioned in the introduction to this paper.

4 Discussion

In critically discussing the tone and content of the press coverage of Euro '96 there is a danger of appearing somewhat po-faced or humourless. No doubt newspaper editors would defend themselves from charges of xenophobia by claiming that their stories are not intended to be taken seriously and that they do not represent their real opinions. It seems incontrovertible that many of the stories identified here are meant to be amusing - readers were not really meant to avoid windmills before England's match against Holland - and this was a key aspect of the criticism of the Daily Mirror's 'soccer war on Germany'. Whereas the previous xenophobic coverage drew little attention from public figures, the World War Two analogy was said to go 'beyond a joke' and trivialise the sacrifices of millions. This 'sense of humour' defence is used in a number of contexts by those espousing racist (or sexist) perspectives and is an attempt to deflect critics by suggesting that they are somehow lacking in personality. This kind of defence is misplaced, however. It is based on a mistaken assumption that humour somehow exists in a separate cultural sphere - divorced from its social context. Given this, the kind of material examined here does indicate something about English national identity and relations with other European nations. It is argued that the xenophobic stereotypes of the Scots, Dutch, Spanish, and Germans that the national press delighted in during Euro '96 cannot be considered separately from their broader social environment (Fleming and Tomlinson, 1996).

Moorhouse suggests that the relations between the various football authorities in England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales, over the period of the twentieth century, reveal fundamental tensions between the four nations that comprise the United Kingdom. His account of the battle between the English Football Association (FA) and La Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) during the period between the two world wars reveals how the 'unthinking arrogance of rule from England' (Moorhouse, 1996: 71) was gradually eroded until the FA eventually capitulated and recognised that it could no longer govern the game in isolation across the globe. The fact that the UK continues to be a single state that nonetheless enters four national teams into international competitions is a continuing reminder of the former pre-eminence Moorhouse describes. This account of the decline in England's power in the context of football has obvious parallels with the wider retreat from Empire which has been so central to recent national history. Much of the nostalgia for former (footballing) achievements evident in the press coverage of Euro '96 can be understood more fully in this light.

In his 1986 book, Football and the Decline of Britain, James Walvin explores the relationship between the hooliganism often associated with football during the 1970s and 1980s and Britain's relative national decline. Simon Kuper (1994) provides additional evidence of the link between the 'beautiful game' and relations between different nations. Indeed, a fixture between Honduras and El Salvador in 1969 contributed towards a military incident that nearly degenerated into a war between the two countries.(10) Whilst this example indicates that professional sport can sometimes become war with shooting, it is more common to find that football can embody the aspirations of a nation in less physically violent forms.

A central aspect of the newspaper material described in both phases above reflects a more widespread nostalgia in recent British politics. This desire to emulate by-gone glories (the Sun commented on 27 June that 'one day we re-live the glory of 1966') has considerable parallels in the retro-chic of Margaret Thatcher's expressed desire to 'put the Great back into Great Britain' and John Major's eulogy to the Conservative Group for Europe that Britain's essential character was evident in:

... long shadows on county grounds, warm beer, invincible green suburbs, dog lovers, and - as George Orwell said - old maids bicycling to Holy Communion through the morning mist.(11)

Other commentators also made explicit links between the patriotic fervour of England during the tournament and a more widespread re-emergence of national pride. Labour Party leader Tony Blair, for example, suggested in the Daily Mirror (28 June, p6) that the championships had helped strengthen the United Kingdom's sense of self (although he was unclear about how the Welsh and Northern Irish - who did not participate - or the Scots - who made an early exit - fitted into this pattern). Gary Bushell, a regular columnist in the Sun, argued that the popular patriotism evident amongst the public validated demands for an un-apologetic celebration of English heritage which he consider under twin threat from a 'politically correct' cultural elite and encroaching Europeanisation (the Sun, 28 June, p9).

Two central themes are apparent in the nostalgia evident in the newspaper coverage of England in Euro '96: the pervasive use of war-time metaphors and the related anti-European rhetoric often advanced by politicians. Allusions to Britain's war-time role were clearly and explicitly made by the press very often during the tournament. Several examples of this have been outlined above and newspapers often used language and cartoons which re-enforced this understanding. The Daily Mail, for example, referred to the Germany as 'the old enemy' (27 June, p1), the Daily Mirror talked of 'the Bottle of Britain' (28 June, 'Score!' supplement, p1), and both the Daily Mirror and the Sun issued commemorative medals to the England players. A more subtle aspect of the military discourse surrounding the championships, though, can be identified in much of the pre-tournament concerns about potential violence which suggested that organised gangs of hooligans were plotting to 'invade' England and cause havoc. The fact that such individuals were often identified as nazis re-enforced the impression that Britain was once more under threat from European fascists. The historically resonant images of Scots threatening from the north is also evident in much of the coverage of the 'Auld Enemy'. As has been mentioned, the recent commemorations of various World War Two anniversaries provided a readily available context for such themes to be played out against.

Mangan (1996) outlines the importance of militarism in Victorian and Edwardian Britain and suggests that engagement in colonial wars came to be considered as the quintessential characteristic of masculinity. Just as military endeavour was widely considered to be of advantage to the fabric of the nation, since it encouraged discipline and social order, benefit to the individual was also thought to be forthcoming. He suggests that participation in battles in the outposts of the British empire 'socialised upper middle class schoolboys into a "male nurturing role" appropriate to that period, and it disguised, sanctified and glorified their death in battle, assuring society of the appropriateness of their sacrifice' (Mangan, 1996: 34). The interesting feature of this celebration of war, in terms of this research paper, is the central role that sport played in the propagation of such images. Popular fiction aimed at young men often drew parallels between the qualities required on the battlefield and those acquired through sport. The importance of personal qualities such as leadership skills, moral courage and a sense of fair play was recognised by 'the plethora of public school officers who considered colonial wars more or less as sporting events. Colonial battlefields were exotic versions of the playing fields of Eton and elsewhere' (Mangan, 1996: 17).

This survey of the popular press coverage of Euro '96 suggests an interesting switch in the relation between images of warfare and those of sport. Whilst Mangan suggests that the latter was used in support of the former a century or so ago, the direction of the relationship now appears to have been reversed. Military images and metaphors are now used to inform popular imaginations of sport, as the title quote from Orwell suggests, football now seems to be an effective substitute for real military engagement (at least as far as the press are concerned). In the early decades of the twentieth century the values and qualities believed necessary for the battlefield were thought to be evident on the football or cricket pitch. At the end of the century it seems that the opposite is now true and that the language of military conflict now informs the popular culture of football. This articulation between militarism and football is encapsulated in the reported description that Liz Pearce gave of her husband, the England player Stuart Pearce (the Sun, 25 June, p2):

He would make a good soldier, a great person to have fighting for us. If he ever went to war, and every soldier had the same passion for his country as Stuart, we could never lose. England means everything to him.

The xenophobia in abundant evidence in the coverage of Euro '96 cannot be dismissed as simply the product of a sensationalist or vulgar press. Much of the debate about Britain's position within the European Union, which has so-dominated the domestic political agenda in recent years, has often been presented in terms of Britain's decline from world power to regional players on the international stage. The inherent implication that Britain's historical role has been superior to that of other European nations underlies much of the rhetoric of the Euro-sceptics (Cohen, 1994). Xenophobic views have frequently been expressed by senior government ministers as well as tabloid headline writers.(12) In 1990, for example, the Trade and Industry Minister Nicholas Ridley resigned after he remarked 'I'm not against giving up sovereignty in principle, but not to this lot [the Germans]. You might just as well give it to Adolf Hitler, frankly'.(13) At the Conservative Party conference in 1993, the Social Security Minister Peter Lilley remarked of the benefit tourists he claimed were flocking to Britain from across Europe:

Why do they come to scrounge off us? They certainly don't come for the climate. Just imagine the advice in a European phrase book for benefit tourists: "Wo ist das hotel?" Where is the housing department?; "Ou est le Bureau de Change?" Where do I cash my benefit cheque?; "Mio Bambino è in Italia" Send child benefit to my child in Italy.(14)

Miles (1993, p98) records that a 1990 meeting between the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and a number of experts on Germany considered the nature of the German character and the concomitant implications of re-unification. The memorandum from the meeting revealed that the following characteristics of the German nation were identified:

... their insensitivity to the feelings of others, their obsession with themselves, a strong inclination to self-pity, and a longing to be liked.

Whilst such views may not be held by all, or even a majority, of political elites it is clear that Britain's imperial legacy involves a degree of xenophobic nationalism which is also abundant in the pages of the tabloid press. The tone and style of the Daily Mirror (to chose a random example) may be more populist but is clearly not all that different in sentiment to the kinds of view expressed more widely in British public life.

Two main aims were outlined at the beginning of this paper: to delineate the nature of the press coverage of Euro '96 and to place this in a broader socio-political context. It is clear that much of the reportage of the championships relied upon an offensive 'Little Englandism' and portrayed (whether intended as 'humour' or not) xenophobic caricatures of England's opponents. When such coverage impacts on public disorder in British cities it is easy to understand why the press are inculpated. Whatever the relation between media discourses and the behaviour of those who receive them, however, it is apparent that merely scapegoating the press is unhelpful - the roots of this aggressive and jingoistic English national identity extend much further than that. As Moorhouse (1996: 71) argues 'nations are "imagined communities" [and so] celebrations, events and incidents are needed to feed imaginations'. Accordingly, given the relationship between football and this 'national identity' it is important to recognise the broader social significance in the press coverage described here.


Cohen, R, (1994) Frontiers of Identity: the British and the Others, London: Longman

Cotton, P. (1996) 'Pre-emptive Strike', Police Review, 104 (5381), 9 August

Davies, P. (1990) All Played Out: The Full Story of Italia '90, London: Heinemann

Fleming, S. and Tomlinson, A. (1996) 'Europe and the Old England' in Merkel, U. and Tokarski, W. (eds.) Racism and Xenophobia in European Football, Aachen, Germany: Meyer & Meyer Verlag: pp79-100

Garland, J. and Rowe, M. (1995) 'Pitch Battles', Police Review, 103 (5340), 20 October: 22-24

Kuper, S. (1994) Football Against the Enemy, London: Orion

Mangan, J.A. (1996) 'Duty Unto Death: English Masculinity in the Age of the New Imperialism' in Mangan, J.A. (ed.) Tribal Identities - Nationalism, Europe, Sport. London: Frank Cass

Merkel, U. and Tokarski, W. (eds.) (1996) Racism and Xenophobia in European Football, Aachen, Germany: Meyer & Meyer Verlag

Miles, R. (1993) Racism After 'Race Relations', London: Routledge

Moorhouse, H.F. (1996) 'One State, Several Countries: Soccer and Nationality in a 'United' Kingdom' in Mangan, J.A. (ed.) Tribal Identities - Nationalism, Europe, Sport. London: Frank Cass

Murray, N. (1989) Racism and the Press in Thatcher's Britain, London: Institute for Race Relations

National Heritage Committee (1996) Press Coverage of the Euro '96 Football Competition, London: HMSO

NCIS (National Criminal Intelligence Service) (1996) N.C.C. Euro '96, Total Arrest by Offence. Private correspondence

Orwell, G. (1970) 'The Sporting Spirit' in Orwell, S. and Angus, I. (eds.) The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters of George Orwell, Vol 4: In Front of Your Nose, 1945-1950, Harmondsworth: Penguin

Searle, C. (1989) Your Daily Dose: Racism and the Sun, London: Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom

Walvin, J. (1986) Football and the Decline of Britain, Basingstoke: MacMillan


1 Unless explicity stated, all the newspaper extracts referred to below are from 1996.

2 See, for example, Cotton (1996).

3 All of the figures cited in this paper are to be found in the centre pages of this publication.

4 A similar style of reporting the hooliganism issue was also evident during the 1990 World Cup (see Davies, 1990).

5 1,148 people were arrested during Euro '96. Total attendance from all 31 games was 1,285,191. The most common offences were 'drink related' (constituting 22.8 per cent of all arrests), and 'ticket touting' (15.1 per cent) (NCIS, 1996).

6 'Gazza' refers to the England midfielder Paul Gascoigne.

7 'Tel' was the press nickname for the England coach Terry Venables.

8 '16.39' refers to the exact time in the game when England's goalkeeper, David Seaman, saved a Scottish penalty.

9 This rivalry stems from three matches in particular: the 1966 World Cup Final (England 4, Germany 2), the 1970 World Cup quarter-final (West Germany 3, England 2) and the 1990 World Cup semi-final (Germany won 4-2 on penalties).

10 See The Times, 30 June 1969, p5.

11 Cited in the Guardian, 31 December 1993.

12 For further discussion of racism and xenophobia in the British press, see Murray (1989) and Searle (1989).

13 The Spectator, 14 July 1990, p8.

14 Cited in the Guardian, 31 December 1993.

Garland, Jon; Rowe, Michael University of Leicester: Scarman Centre Crime, Order and Policing Series 1 January 2000

Back to all resources
All content, unless otherwise stated, is copyright of Football Unites, Racism Divides.