x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

We need to escape the masquerade

History - real history, that is, not sporting history - must be left outside the stadium, along with the brass bands and the Uefa-approved tinned atmosphere.

England fans dress at knights, dismissed as harmless fun but offensive to some.
England fans dress at knights, dismissed as harmless fun but offensive to some.

Uefa's meddling with stadium etiquette during the European Championships in Poland and Ukraine has been mainly irritating.

Those ghastly countdowns to kick off, for example, are both undignified and unnecessary. The same goes for the goal celebration music which blares from stadium speakers.

This is the European Championships, for pity's sake. It is not snooker or boxing, or some other insecure minor sport which must belch out synthetic excitement in case the actual event does not deliver the real thing.

Trust the fans to make their own atmosphere, even during dull matches (of which, at the time of writing, there has not been a single one).

One good call, however, was the arbitrary decision before the England versus France match - by a rogue steward at the Donbass Arena, not Uefa itself - to ban that infernal brass band which has dogged England matches for the past 16 years.

Give me rattles, klaxons, a host of vuvuzelas, a thousand fingernails scraping down blackboards, Cheryl Cole without autotune. Anything to drown out yet another rendition of the theme tune to The Great Escape.

If I hear that dirge one more time, I feel I might tunnel into Stalag Luft III.

What is it with England supporters and The Great Escape anyway?

Yes, the brave Prisoners of War who tunnelled out of the Nazi prison were mainly English, and in the film a key character was a foreigner who left early, but that is where the similarity ends.

That escape was built around creativity, daring and the clever use of scant resources. Does that sound like the England football team to you?

If any England team of the last 20 years was tasked with escaping from Stalag Luft III, they would have sat deep near the cooler with a giant catapult, occasionally launching one hapless soul towards the perimeter fence to be instantly mown down by typically well-organised German machine-gunners. Then someone (Wayne Rooney) would get frustrated and butt Colonel von Luger.

Of course, I do know really why England fans love to bang on about The Great Escape. It is the same reason that some dress as knights in armour.

It is because, in the absence of sporting victories to crow about, some people feel the need to invoke the spirit of past military "triumphs", even if they have to look a long way back.

They will tell you it is harmless fun -and most probably mean no harm. However, such "mild" nationalism can give licence to more hostile forms.

The enormous "This Is Russia" banner unfurled in Warsaw on Tuesday night, which some say depicted Dmitry Pozharsky, who led Russia's struggle for independence against a Polish invasion, was clearly an inflammatory gesture on a night already marred by ugly clashes.

The English have led the charge against racism in football, persistently badgering Uefa to take a firmer stance against such Far Right lunacy. And rightly so.

But how can they decry the This Is Russia banner while literally trumpeting their own glorious warrior past.

History - real history, that is, not sporting history - must be left outside the stadium, along with the brass bands and the Uefa-approved tinned atmosphere.

sports@thenational.ae

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