The mainstream media’s failure to report on the Euros

With his frantic cries of “Journaliste! Journaliste!” the former Liverpool footballer turned TalkSport radio presenter Stan Collymore became an object of fun last week.

(Article by, Ian Burrell, republished from

Big Stan’s melodramatic declaration of his working credentials came as he live filmed on Periscope scenes of French police, armed with batons and tear gas, tackling fighting fans at Euro 2016. His coverage became an online hit, partly for its novelty value.

The same night in Lille, Siobhan Robbins of Sky News was mocked after she performed live stand-upper reports for the cameras wearing the type of protective helmet viewers more readily associate with a war correspondent. To some observers the headwear was evidence of the media’s desire to sensationalise disturbances at the Euros.

Difficult tournament for mainstream news

In terms of off-field events, this has been a difficult tournament for the mainstream news media.

For decades, from the late 1970s, England’s appearances at major football championships were a banker for front-page splashes and bulletin-leading television images of marauding fans besmirching the national reputation.

Sports desks handed over reporting duties to hard-nosed colleagues from the newsroom, who themselves grew into veterans of football violence, as familiar with glass-strewn piazzas as the worst England hooligans.

The narrative became depressingly formulaic, with mindless drunks from among the English support dutifully providing material for pictures and copy that justified the travel expenses of the reporters on the “hoolie” beat.

But for some years, since at least 2010, the story has been different. At the World Cups in Brazil and South Africa and the last Euro championships in Poland and Ukraine, the English travelling support has been well-behaved, in tune with successes in eliminating hooliganism from our domestic leagues.

The prospect of the Three Lions on tour – in parallel with the generally peaceful Notting Hill Carnival – has recently struggled to set pulses racing among British news editors. Reporting duties for England trips have largely been returned to the sports journalists.

So when Russian ultras descended on the old port in Marseille to launch their brutal attacks, the UK media was caught off guard, just like the England fans and French police.

Stock stories of drunken Englishmen

Initially, coverage simply reverted to the stock story of drunken Englishmen behaving disgracefully.

To a degree that was understandable. A small minority of England supporters retaliated with violence, with some idiots relishing that opportunity. Unsightly scenes of bare-chested men baiting local people and police with moronic xenophobic chanting showed that parts of the Three Lions support have learned nothing from repeated targeting of travelling English fans by thugs at club and international games in recent seasons. They fail to understand the likely consequences of their battle-camp pre-match colonisation of foreign cities.

This does not change the fact that the professional news media was slow to grasp the essence of the shocking violence in Marseille. ITV was napping when Russian thugs were charging across the stands even while it was on air. Some press writers provided nuanced analysis of the cultural illiteracy of the English fans, while TV shots of England supporters strutting before police or stampeding from tear gas added to the sense of their culpability.

Social media helped turn fire on Russian ultras

In years past, before the internet and smartphones with cameras, the extent to which the Russian violence was premeditated might have been buried by the old narrative of English yobbery. But with social media flooded with mobile phone footage from eyewitnesses, the UK media recalibrated its position and – notably led by The Sun – turned its fire on the Russian ultras.

Judging by the reactions to the violence of Vladimir Putin and his political cohort there seems little likelihood of them being condemned by their domestic media.

I understand why Robbins, the Sky News West of England correspondent, donned a helmet as violence continued in Lille on Thursday. If fans can throw coins at begging children, as England supporters did in Lille, they’re capable of hurling bottles at news crews, which have been targeted by football hooligans before. Especially if they regard the media as hostile.

Collymore’s pretensions to being a frontline correspondent are less obvious. His repeated shouting “Russian fans throwing things, Russian fans throwing things” while pointing his camera at the pavement, before denouncing a Russian held by police – “You were throwing bottles! Yes!” – suggests he needs training ahead of his next assignment.

He also lacked professionalism in an abusive response to former Loaded editor Martin Daubney, who questioned the ex-footballer’s claim to be a “journaliste”.

Yet Collymore – a media professional who showed courage and initiative in reporting on this difficult intersection of news and sport – is a journalist. So too are the BBC’s Gary Lineker, ITV Sport’s Mark Pougatch and the citizen journalists posting footage from France online.

As England’s Euro journey continues tonight, they can all contribute to giving us a truer picture of what’s really taking place.


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