How You Can Tell That These Hooligans Aren't Up to Conducting a Serious Foreign Policy

By Johnson, Frank | The Spectator, June 24, 2000 | Go to article overview

How You Can Tell That These Hooligans Aren't Up to Conducting a Serious Foreign Policy


Johnson, Frank, The Spectator


The most interesting remark so far about these present tumults was that of the Home Secretary. Mr Straw had incurred hostile criticism for being unable, despite all his promises to the Continental powers, to prevent our hooligans from invading the Low Countries, and sacking the main square at Charleroi. Hardly any of those Englishmen whom the Belgian police arrested had any hooliganrelated convictions, he said. He added that many of them were middle-class professionals; `barristers and engineers', he pointed out.

Does this mean that many middle-class Englishmen, pillars of pomposity here at home, live exciting double lives as soccer hooligans when abroad; that when their womenfolk are not with them, it is not at all foie Bras in the Dordogne, and art in Tuscany? As an observer of this class over the years, I had long suspected it.

`What is votre metier?' the Belgian policemen would have asked them as part of the paperwork once they were safely teargassed and handcuffed. `That means, "What's your job?"'

British professional gentleman: `Thank you, but I was perfectly capable of understanding your French, heavy with a Flemish accent though it was. My name is George Carman, QC, barrister-at-law.'

Policeman (addressing another English captive): `Et vows?'

Englishman: `Isambard Kingdom Brunel - engineer - a votre service.'

Wearily, the policeman completes his list of metiers among the captive hooligans: Lord of Appeal; Director of Opera Planning, Glyndeboume; Keeper of Prints, the Ashmolean; Head Master of Eton . . . the usual upper-middle-class jobs. But one would have thought that, however well these professionals might be concealing their secret identities, something of the hooligan double life would peep through as they went about their professional activities here in England.

Might not a judge have to admonish counsel: "Throughout this case, Sir Hartley, you have maintained a steady stream of obscene chants about the private lives of Posh and Becks. I myself had the honour of having rioted at Charleroi, but your behaviour here at home cannot but bring the High Court into disrepute. Kindly desist before I inform the Bar Council.'

Sir Hartley: `Come on if you're 'ard enough, my lord.'

Judge: `Much obliged.'

All I committed myself to earlier was that I suspected Mr Straw might be right. I have always detected a certain hooliganism. beneath the smooth surface of the English professional man. Admittedly, my contact with him is largely confined to the intervals at Covent Garden. He is there under sufferance - sufferance being broadly defined as his wife. He is either `entertaining a client' or a client who is being entertained. His interval conversation is only briefly about the work of art being attended: `Lovely tunes, goes on a bit, though. Got in any shooting lately, Bill?' The obsession with shooting gives him the air of a man who would rather be killing something, preferably several scenes separating him from his dinner.

Yet, if Mr Straw is right, the very ordeal facing our professional men once they have arrived at Covent Garden or sweated down to Glyndebourne suggests that, occasionally, they would riot there and then, hurling restaurant chairs across that Sussex garden. …

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