Narinder Singh: What I saw at Wembley – and why it’s wrong to demonise England fans as yobs and thugs

14 Jul

Narinder Singh is the Deputy Chairman of Harborough Conservatives.

“Are you sure you want to go to the England games – why don’t you just watch them on TV?”, asked family members when I told them I was going to Wembley. Not because they thought we might lose (though, sadly, we did on Sunday), but because of what they had heard and seen about England fans over the years.

So, having fortuitously obtained a ticket for England v Germany, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t go to the game with a degree of trepidation – particularly as my friends were sat elsewhere in the stadium, since we had bought our tickets individually.

By the time the tournament had ended, I’d been to four games in all: England’s semi-final against Denmark, plus our final against Italy, as well as Italy’s semi-final against Spain.  What followed was one of the biggest rollercoasters of emotions I’d ever experienced.

Let’s start with the lows. Those who issued racist abuse to Saka, Rashford or Sancho are scumbags and, as Harry Kane rightly said, not England fans. Every nation has racists, and always will – but they do not and never will speak for the millions of England fans across the country, and the thousands who sang their hearts out at Wembley. Gareth Southgate himself has alluded to some of these tweets coming from overseas – and time will tell whether or not this was so.

On a happier note, not once did I have any uncomfortable moments at Wembley; indeed, I had the opposite experience. Making friends with strangers in the crowd and cheering together was an experience that I’ll never forget.

There are some other points to address, too. About a hundred people attempted to break into the stadium without a ticket. While they represented a tiny fraction of the thousands who travelled to Wembley without one to experience the atmosphere, they could harm our World Cup bid for 2030: their behaviour is inexcusable.

One of the videos circulating on social media after the game showed some of the England fans (with tickets) inside the stadium, tackling those who had forced entry. This same video has since been widely circulated to suggest that the incident was an attack on Italian fans (it wasn’t), and also a racially motivated attack, since one of those who broke in and attacked was Asian. Now I’m not condoning the fans who took the law into their own hands, but these false narratives only sow further divisions.

Another widely circulated post showed a group of Polish fans from a previous tournament attacking a fan, alongside some completely fabricated statistics about the number of people of colour stabbed that night. It was a bit of a giveaway that their t-shirts said ‘POLSKA’ on the front.

Misleading claims have also been made about the treatment of national anthems. We’re led to believe English fans are the only ones who boo them: having sat amongst Italians for their semi-final, I can categorically say that this isn’t true.

Gary Neville made the point on Twitter that England’s national anthem is routinely booed at away games – not so much as a xenophobic gesture, but to unsettle the players.

While I didn’t jeer any of the anthems for the games I was at, I agree with him. A minority may choose to boo while most stand in silence (or applaud, as some did for Italy on Sunday) but, again, there have been attempts that only England fans behave in this way.

There are parallels with the knee debate. Yes, I heard some boos, but I also saw most people stand respectfully in silence (as is custom at league games), or applaud.

Are England fans perfect? No. But are club fans perfect either? No. Some of the problems complained of – rubbish-strewn streets, excess drinking and yobbish behaviour happen routinely at a domestic level. Where there are genuine issues such as racism or breaking into the stadium, they need to be addressed – while also remembering that these actions do not represent 99 per cent of England fans across the country, or those at Wembley over recent weeks.

A tiny number of people, whether UK-based or overseas, can change the narrative about football supporters, because it’s easy to set up profiles on social media. There is no credible verification – so, until that changes, people will be able to set up profiles without worrying about the consequences.

Hopefully, most people continue to see that the overwhelming majority of England fans simply want to support their country. Sunday was painful for lots of reasons, but let’s not allow false narratives and the actions of a few to set the agenda.

Narinder Singh: Liberal ‘defenders’ shouldn’t presume to speak for me on the Begum ruling

1 Mar

Narinder Singh is the Deputy Chairman of Harborough Conservatives.

Apparently, I’ve been living in fear since Friday and worried about my future in the country I call home. Not because I’ve done anything wrong, but because I’m a second-generation immigrant and I’ve been told we’re all now drowning in doubt and concern about our future place, because of the decision taken by the Supreme Court over Shamima Begum. From my own perspective and based on the conversations I’ve had with most of my friends and family, I can assure you we aren’t.

People will have their own view on the case and the ruling of the Supreme Court. I support this, as do the majority of the public from the polling I’ve seen – including some polling I remember from the time she was last in the news, broken down by ethnicity. But the main point I want to take on here is the supposed insight from enlightened commentators and Tweeters (believe they call it a “hot take”) who are invariably white, but seem to have appointed themselves as new BME spokespeople.

I don’t claim to speak for all BMEs (we aren’t a homogenous block) in the way that some of our liberal “defenders” claim to, but I’m confident in saying my view will be shared by more than will disagree with it. See, we understand that people can and will make mistakes, especially when younger. But there’s a difference between skiving school with your friends as we did (hope my parents aren’t reading) and travelling to Syria to pledge your allegiance to a death cult that is responsible for the deaths of thousands of innocent people.

It’s not only incorrect, but also massively insulting to try and portray us all as “scared” on the back of this, as though we’re unable to understand and appreciate the gravity of what Begum did, and just extrapolate from this ruling that we’re all at risk because of it. I think most of us, despite being regularly told we’re downtrodden victims in need of help, can gauge for ourselves the seriousness of what she did and the difference to if any one of us got a speeding ticket or drove through a red light.

Some will say she was groomed or brainwashed – an argument I do have some time for given her age – but she’s also expressed a lack of remorse in her interviews since then. ISIS have publicly said in the past they want to send their fighters back “home” to carry out attacks on foreign soil, under the guise of disillusionment with the regime as reformed characters who can be rehabilitated and integrated back into society.

With this in mind, and Begum’s clear lack of regret, the Supreme Court is right to say national security is the priority here. Who would be held responsible if she was to return, and form part of any attack that took place in this country? Not the above commentators I can assure you.

My parents were clear with us from a young age, this country will provide us with all sorts of opportunities, it’s up to us to work hard and take them. They weren’t wrong. Two of my fellow second-generation immigrants occupy two of the four great offices of state, and another held both of these offices before them, and took this initial decision (correctly).

To the self-appointed spokespeople who feel the need to speak on our behalf as though we are all of the same view, please find another charity project or pet cause to champion. We’re capable of speaking for ourselves, articulating our own concerns and can understand the severity of what Begum did, which is why this doesn’t generate fear in all of us.

This country has been exceptionally welcoming to my family and given us lots of opportunities. Yes it isn’t perfect, but I struggle to think of any other country that has been as welcoming as the UK, and where there has been as much progression to the highest offices in the land besides the US. Begum made her decision and it’s one that has no relevance or bearing on how most of us see our place in this country; please stop implying it does and stop speaking on my behalf.