The Final: Attack on Wembley (2024) Movie Review – The ugly side of the beautiful game

The ugly side of the beautiful game

On July 11, 2021, the England football team were at Wembley, preparing themselves for that day’s game against Italy. Meanwhile, the England fans were preparing themselves in a different way. Outside of the stadium, they were drinking copious amounts of alcohol, taking drugs, and doing whatever else was needed to ensure they had a good time. 

We aren’t talking about every England fan, of course. Of the thousands of people who attended the UEFA 2020 final, many behaved responsibly. After buying tickets for the game (sometimes at an exorbitant price), they queued at the gates, waiting to be let into the main arena to see the England vs Italy game.

But not every person outside Wembley that day had bought a ticket. One man interviewed in the Netflix documentary, The Final: Attack on Wembley, had withdrawn £2000, hoping that somebody would sell him their ticket when he arrived at the stadium.

There were many other people without a ticket and they had no intention of paying for one either. Their goal was to get into the stadium by any means necessary, even if that meant crushing others underfoot in the process. 

That day in July has gone down in history. Not because England won the game – they didn’t – but because the carnage that took place was on a whole other level. It went beyond people wearing traffic cones on their heads and sticking fireworks up their butts (sights you will see in the documentary). 

As the day went on and as people got increasingly hyped up, events took a violent turn. Glass bottles were thrown, faces got punched, heads got kicked in, and people were quite literally walked over.

Understandably, a lot of people were scared, including the stewards, who faced impossible odds when a great swarm of fans pushed their way towards them. We hear from one steward in the documentary who feared for his safety. We also hear from an Italian supporter who desperately tried to protect his young daughter from the chaos around them.

Thanks to footage taken from mobile phones, we see the mayhem unfold in almost real-time. What we see is both shocking and sickening as grown men behave in ways that are animalistic in nature. It’s horrible to watch, shameful even, with images that may stick with you when the closing credits have rolled. 

In the documentary, we hear from one of the fans who broke their way into the stadium without a ticket. He wasn’t as aggressive as some of the people we see outside Wembley. But he still has little regret for his actions as his primary concern was seeing the game. He partly blames the COVID lockdown for what occurred and expresses the belief that it was the pent-up energy of those who had been stuck indoors for months that led to the pandemonium at the stadium. 

I don’t necessarily agree with that point of view. England fans have often behaved like hooligans, both at home games and away. It’s the drinking and drug-taking that plays a part in their behaviour, though I suspect some of them don’t need substances of any kind to behave the way they do. 

For the most part, the documentary is very well done. We get interviews with fans, stewards, and members of the local council, who were appalled at the destruction happening both in and out of the stadium.

We also get footage of the football game itself, including the end-game penalties which are still heart-stopping, even though we know the final results. 

Also touched upon is the racism of others. When Marcus Rashford and Bukayo Sako missed their penalty shots, racist abuse was thrown at them. This abuse didn’t only take place at Wembley. It happened on social media too, with the ‘n’ word used in derogatory terms and other vile messages that were tweeted from one fan to another after the game.

These tweets are highlighted in the doc to paint a picture of the racism that is still inherent in Britain. This extends to the defacing of a mural of Marcus Rashford, which is upsetting to see, not least because of the incredible contributions he has made to charity to eradicate homelessness and poverty among children. He’s a real-life hero, so what does it matter if he missed the penalty shot? At the end of the day, football’s only a game, though I know some of you will disagree with me on that point. 

Ultimately, the documentary is another reminder of the ugly side of the beautiful game. It’s not perfect – I would have liked interviews with the England team to get their perspective on what happened that day. Interviews with some of the hooligans would have been interesting too. But regardless of those omissions, this Netflix doc is a gripping but saddening watch that paints a bleak picture of football fandom.

Feel free to check out more of our movie reviews here!

  • Verdict - 7.5/10