It is not often I have too much in the way of sympathy for English football.
As a Welsh rugby fan, with a passing interest in the round-ball game, I often watch events unfolding with an amused detachment. Let’s face it, as a Welsh rugby fan, I have more than enough local difficulties of my own to deal with most of the time.
But the one footballing that is bound to get my hackles rising is the so-called “English disease”.
There is little doubt that hooliganism blighted the beautiful game in the 1970s and 80s and into the early 90s, not just in England but elsewhere in the UK. It is also true to say that a mindless minority still associate football with violence.
However, this country has made massive strides in tackling this problem. Although not fully eradicated – I’m not sure that will ever be possible – the “English disease” is now well under control.
And that is where the double standards begin, not least because the English game is still tarnished by events of the last 20 years. What makes matters worse is that our own media tends to be among the first to point the finger.
That is why media reaction to events in France during Manchester United’s cup tie with Lille – universally condemning the treatment meted out to the English team’s suppirters – is something of a breath of fresh air.
What remains unacceptable, however, is that other countries come nowhere near matching England’s attempts to deal with the problem of hooliganism.
The attitude of the French authorities was seemingly to treat the Manchester United supporters as animals from the moment they arrived in France to the moment they left the country and yet French fans were indulged as they baited the opposition and lobbed a variety of missiles onto the playing field.
Elsewhere in Europe – Italy and Holland especially – the problem of hooliganism has been escalating for years. Once again it appears nowhere near enough has been done to combat the problem – steps are only being taken in Italy now that a police officer has lost his life in rioting between opposing sets of supporters.
There are issues in many other countries too and yet, invariably, incidents get overlooked. The type of sanctions and the stigma endured by England is hardly, if ever, repeated in countries where the problem of hooliganism is as bad (if not worse) than we ever witnessed in this country.
One would hope that Uefa comes down hard on Lille and the French footballing authorities over this week’s incidents. Equally, one would assume that Italy faces serious sanctions over its escalating problems with violence.
Yet, somehow, you get the feeling that nothing of consequence will happen and the double standards will ensure that England will forever be tarnished.