Racism is alive and well throughout many areas of the UK and this latest manifestation of its irrational, bilious nature surely could not have been unexpected.
That Boris Johnson felt moved to issue a statement condemning this sorry state of affairs is a bit rich given some of his previous statements which have helped stoke the fires of anti-Islamic sentiment and have done nothing to further the cause of race relations.
In one of his columns, he labelled black Africans “piccaninnies” with “watermelon smiles” and suggested that Malaysian women only go to university “to find men to marry”.
Johnson was reported to the Equalities Commission in 2018 after comparing Muslim women who wear burqas to “letter boxes” and bank robbers. So forgive me if I find it a tad hypocritical when he condemns the racist abuse that the players have been subjected to and only wish that he had enough common sense to realise that his previous utterances have contributed to the problem and not the solution.
Last Sunday, as I made my way to meet pals at a West End hostelry before the game, I was sent a copy of a social media posting showing an Italian fan being subjected to an intense beating just inside Wembley stadium.
As he lay on the ground desperately trying to protect himself, a group of thugs took turns to run up and aim kicks and punches at his head before he was rescued and spirited away by some stewards.
Another posting showed dozens of ticketless England fans rushing up stairs and vaulting barriers as they gained entry to the stadium, pushing past legitimate fans, including children, to take up seats allocated to ticket holders, thoroughly ruining what should have been a great occasion for many.
These incidents were the subject of some discussion in the pub prior to kick off but no one was in the least bit surprised that such footage depicting grotesque thuggery by a minority of England fans had surfaced – such is the reputation of this hardcore of mindless morons who follow their national team.
And so it continued. After the game 19 police officers were injured when they “confronted volatile crowds” and 49 people were arrested for a “variety of offences”.
The Metropolitan Police Federation, which represents thousands of London’s police officers tweeted: “These people should be ashamed of themselves. They are not fans, they are thugs. We wish our injured colleagues well.”
As we watched the game, loyalties were split but it was safe to say that I did not witness many crying in their beer after the Italian goalkeeper, Gianluigi Donnarumma, leapt to his left to deny Saka in the penalty shoot-out and triggered joyous celebrations in the Italian camp.
The Azzurri were the better team for most of what was an enthralling game. It’s just a shame that incidents off the park have grabbed the headlines and tarnished a great football competition.