England’s performance in the World Cup can be described as
uninspired, lacking any sense of real commitment, and not learning the
lessons of recent campaigns. I refer of course to how the football
authorities have handled the PR aspects of the recent English football
’The same old cliches’ was how one leading sports editor described the
response of the FA at its press conference immediately after the rioting
in Marseilles. Certainly, the FA has sharpened up its media relations
skills in recent years. Witness its handing of the decision not to take
action against Alan Shearer after a pitch fracas. A potential major
story was considerably defused by timing its announcement, at 7.30pm in
the evening- just as the nationals were being put to bed, and on the day
before Chelsea’s European Cup Winner’s Cup Final appearance, when half
the country’s leading sports writers were out of the country.
Yet predictable were the scenes in France ’98, of riots, tear gas, and
the St George tattooed chests dragging down the reputation of England
abroad and its chances for hosting the tournament in 2006 were
The key to any crisis management is planning-identifying the problems in
advance and trying to pre-empt them, being aware that actions speak
louder than words, and dealing with the emotional current of a
No one is underestimating the difficulties faced in dealing with the
football violence, and the need for positive relations with the French
authorities, even though in private they may feel aspects of the
security have been poorly handled.
Yet, contrast the English performance with the Germans. Sickened by the
actions of their countrymen, the German authorities re-acted swiftly,
appearing better briefed on the problems they were talking about,
showing they cared about the condition of the French gendarme injured in
the violence, and even putting forward the suggestion their team might
pull out of the tournament.
The English response, however, was characterised by the FA’s head of
security Sir Brian Hayes - he unwisely took a holiday in Spain at the
height of the crisis.
Where was the FA with potential bridge building activities between the
fans and local people? Instead, the face of England on the streets of
Marseilles before the riots was represented by the Sun newspaper’s
promotional bus peddling its patriotic fervour with give-aways of
plastic England hats. However England performs on the pitch, it seems
that, sadly, the result off the pitch will be a poor one.