Blog: Dean BestEngland's Pukka fan band should be heard

Dean Best | 12 June 2012

The "England band" - a group of football fans that attend the national team's matches and play instruments in the stands - divide opinion among their follow supporters. But we should have all felt sorry for the trumpet-playing, drum-banging, England-shirt wearers yesterday (11 May) when they were excluded from the team's Euro 2012 match in Ukraine, right?

Officials at the stadium in Donetsk that was hosting England's game versus France refused to allow the band into the ground. The members of the band claimed they had clearance from UEFA, the body that runs football in Europe, to take their instruments into the stadium but their pleas fell on deaf ears. It was the first game the band, sponsored by UK pie firm Pukka Pies, had missed in 18 years.

By the reaction on Twitter, the banning of the band was music to some fans' ears. However, surely only the most churlish supporters would take pleasure in the exclusion of the band?

There are those who see the band as an irritation, churning out the same old songs (the national anthem, the theme from The Great Escape etc) and stifling the chants of others.

But, watching England's match against France yesterday (yes, I had clocked off), it was clear the stadium was devoid of much atmosphere and the band could have provided some support to a team that fought hard for a 1-1 draw.

And it should be noted that the band has driven from England to Ukraine to support their team during the tournament. Okay, the trip has been paid for by Pukka Pies but that's a long way to go to support your team.

Given the Pukka Pies affiliation, was it case that tournament officials, protective of their multi-million pound sponsorship deals, was behind the banning of the band (who wear Pukka Pies-branded outfits)? One band member said they had clearance from the football authorities to enter the stadium and were denied by officials at the ground.

"We cover up our branding when we go in to the stadium and that's what we'd done on Monday night. We understand concerns about ambush marketing and our sponsors don't want any bad publicity either," John Hemmingham was quoted as saying in The Guardian.

A spokesman for Pukka Pies told just-food "representations had been made" to UEFA to try to get the band into the stadium in Kiev where England play Sweden on Friday.

"I was at the game," the spokesperson said. "It was really noticeable that it was so quiet."

Okay, the songs the band play can be very repetitive but, compared to previous tournaments, few England fans have travelled to Ukraine and the team will need all the support it can get.

Also, generally speaking, the more affluent type of supporter that football now attracts is less likely to chant for 90 minutes than the sport's traditional fanbase. The expense of following England in Poland and Ukraine may have prevented the more vocal fans from attending.

Even if we may grow weary of hearing Rule Britannia during the matches, it's better than near-silence. We'd go to Arsenal for that.


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