Lots of louts

Judy Sharp reflects on life and her world – as she sees it

By the time you read this, it will almost all be over. Writing ahead as I am, I cannot predict how much more violence (if any) there will be, how much more negative coverage the Algarve will have throughout the world thanks to these men who cause damage to whatever and whoever happens to be around when the whim takes them.

The region is full of TV and radio crews and many people have been interviewed. I have spoken to BBC Radio Five Live and BBC Radio Four. After the first bout of trouble, I was asked to go to The Strip and walk down the street with the reporter. What a sight! Even in the middle of the day men were showering each other with pints of beer. Males of all shapes and sizes were parading around without a T-shirt (or even a football shirt!) giving everyone else the dubious pleasure of seeing their rapidly-burning pallid, often tattooed, flesh.

The second interview was, thankfully, in a villa away from Albufeira. It is not easy to get across to these BBC teams, who do not know the area, that what has happened in The Strip is not usual and it is not welcome. Albufeira attracts the sort of tourists who are looking for a good time – sun, sea and sand, cheap beer, night-clubs and everything that goes with it – but that does not inevitably provoke the sort of hooliganism we have seen recently.

The second team admitted they were only here to cover the hooligan element of Euro 2004. How sad, I said, that they could not devote an equal amount of time to promoting the beautiful area and delightful people that we all know and enjoy. I explained that here, in a country of 12 million people (roughly the same population as London), there are three daily newspapers dedicated to football, which is not just a sport, but a religion. Even with that level of fanaticism and huge rivalry between Sporting, Benfica and Porto, there is not the kind of violence that these thugs bring with them. It has nothing to do with football, it has to do with – what?

Skip’s justification for hooligans is that they are “young, disaffected and disenfranchised… socially disadvantaged… seeking a different ‘family’ and a raison d’être. No job, no money, no hope and no pride are powerful and compelling emotive factors,” he says. Does that explain a 47-year-old fireman leading a group of yobs at one of these riots? Does it excuse young men with university educations and middle-class backgrounds being arrested for drunken violence? Or the son of a psychiatrist being deported and banned from Portugal? Sorry, Skip, these guys probably flew Business Class in their designer suits and, when they were not causing havoc, they probably went back to a five-star hotel or a luxury villa. Is there an answer? “Lack of discipline in the homes and schools,” some wail. “Bring back National Service” others cry. “Send them to Iraq, that would teach them a lesson!” I believe it is a symptom of a wider malaise, which the British government seems, somehow, to condone and even encourage. Drinking hours are being extended (in some cases to 24 hours), gambling laws are being relaxed and violence seems increasingly acceptable.

Just look at British TV (which I don’t, but I have been reading about it). The latest Big Brother show there seems to comprise of a group of hand-picked dysfunctional wannabes, and the producers encourage alcohol, sex and violence in an attempt to boost the ratings. If that is what is constantly being blasted into people’s homes – and shown in lurid detail in tabloid papers for those who missed it live – then people get the message that this is perfectly acceptable behaviour.

When the government says it’s OK to drink 24 hours a day, and gamble large amounts of money anywhere from a bingo hall to your local fish and chip shop, what hope is there? When yobs who are caught red-handed causing riots and serious damage get a slap on the wrist and told they are naughty boys, that is really going to scare them off, isn’t it? “Despicable but painfully honest in their actions,” Skip says of the hooligans. Is that why they bring their children with them? So they can experience honesty in action? To teach them how to throw a chair through a window? To hear how daddy swears at journalists or anyone else who has the temerity to ask why the children aren’t at school?

Whichever team raises the Euro 2004 trophy, whoever the footballing heroes are, the real winners are, sadly, the hooligans who grabbed the headlines and the publicity and spoiled it for everyone else. And the losers are those honest, hard-working people in Albufeira and elsewhere in the Algarve who had to clear up the mess, and get on with their lives.

Right now, for me, getting on with my life means starting a new course of spiritual development with Douglas Ballard, whom I mentioned to you a few weeks ago. To paraphrase Skip, from time to time, we need to get away, to be with other like-minded people, leaving behind nonsense such as toilet seats and football. Spiritual development offers such an opportunity. If anyone out there (male or female!) would like to know more, call me on 966 108 605, or e-mail me on judysharp@mail.telepac.pt