Saturday, 7 March 2015

Those Blueshirts are at it again: Some thoughts on football

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Looks like once again the world has cause to be ashamed of a group of men in matching blue shirts. Well okay most of them aren't wearing blue shirts apart from the fat one on the far right but it is team colours so I think I can still getaway with the comparison.


Yep, in an incident shocking no one who actually follows football beyond the telly and an occasional trip to the bookies a group of fans of a football team were discovered being racist. The incident on the Paris Metro involved stopping a Black Parisian from boarding an admittedly crowded train and then celebrating this achievement for the white race by dusting off  a version the old "We're X and that's the way we like it, we like it, we like it". Unsurprisingly there was the usual round of condemnations with the club distancing itself from the dozen or so berks.

British Transport Police (BTP) said officers had received a number of complaints from passengers on the same train.
Detective Sergeant Michael Maher said: "I want to hear from anyone who was on the train, particularly in coach E, around the time it reached Stoke at 10.40pm.
"By the accounts we have received, the group were chanting insults at other passengers, and some of these insults may have been racist."
And then later on some Chelsea fans were caught singing antisemitic songs when they played Tottenham Hotspur. Mind you Tottenham's nickname is the `Yids` since that area has a Jewish community so plenty of other teams and fans have used that word to refer to them as well, so really its more unusual that we don't see more stories about Anti-Semitism in British football. The nickname is quite a problem, not only because its a slur, -most nicknames for rival football teams are- but because it provides quite a bit of cover for good old fashioned Neo-Nazi style anti-Semitism. I don't think most Chelsea fans are Antisemitic even if they sing songs about hating Tottenham, because Roman Abromvich the guy who owns the club is Jewish. Seems to me a rather daft way of having a go at the Jews, singing songs about not liking them whilst giving one of them a lot of money. Trust me supporting a football club isn't cheap. Mind you these are the same type of guys who like to loudly chant in public that they're racist, so maybe they are anti semites and are just really thick who knows?


Now while I really don't like Chelsea (or any of the Premiership level teams to be honest) and think their behaviour to be disgusting I didn't click the New Post button just to join in the Blues bashing, fun though it is. No I'm going to take a broader view and look at modern football in general, because focussing on Chelsea is just scapegoating.

I like football, I'm a season ticket holder and I've been on the odd away day with my team the Mariners AKA Grimsby Town. Admittedly its not a great time for the club we've declined quite a bit since the 90's and early 2000's but I enjoy the matches and the atmosphere at away games. So I'm not one of those lefty snobs who brands football and by extension people who like as dull eyed fish being kept docile by bread and circuses. On the contrary football is a very engaging sport and there's plenty discussion and debate in the grounds and at the neighbouring pubs.

Having said that I and most fans of the game will tell you that there is a lot wrong with the "beautiful game". The presence and use of money is one, and Racism is another. Racism or more accurately the existence of racist fans shouldn't be surprising, given the popularity of Football in Britain there's bound to be some overlap, and of course football supporters form a sort of subculture and tribe, and what is racism if not a form of tribalism? When you in a stand jumping up and down chanting and singing, and swearing you're part of a group with an identity, and that group is being challenged by the "others" the opposition so its naturally to be aggressive against them. Usually its benign, laughing at a striker who misses, jeering a midfielder who concedes a throw in, telling a diver to get up or we'll give them something to cry about. But it can turn really nasty, I remember going to Sincil Bank in Lincoln away and one of the Lincoln fans fell down the concrete steps and had to be stretchered out. They took him past the away end and due to the quite bitter history and the fact we were being hammered (we'd lose 5-0) some fans were out for blood and tried to pelt with plastic bottles and loudly wished he'd die.

Add to that the large number of players who are foreign, its already accepted practice to criticise violently the other team for anything really. Being too good, being too bad, hairy, big, small, bald, so why not because they're black or from France? The principles the same we just react differently to chants of "you fat bastard! you fat bastard!" and "you black bastard! you black bastard!".  Now I disagree with that but it happens, dozens of times I've heard someone getting called out for racist chanting who justifies by saying its just part of the game.

Its not for the faint hearted.Then there's the generation gap, one thing most newspapers and websites have been quick to remind everyone in the wake of the Chelsea incidents is that this isn't as bad as it used to be in the 1970's. If you're not familiar you might be wondering what they mean, well the 70's was the decade were British teams started including black and asian players and quite a lot of fans really didn't like that. There are many stories about black players being abused by both home and away fans, supporters refusing to applaud a goal scored by a black player, throwing bananas on the pitch etc.

Quite horrid, but hasn't happen here for awhile. Unfortunately what's often overlooked is that those fans from the 70's and 80's haven't gone away or if they have they've just moved to another clubs ground. We didn't really change the atmosphere we just added some penalties on top. All that's really happened is that racist fans realise they can't stand up and openly bash a player, they have to hide it. So instead what a lot of them do is wait for a certain player to make a mistake, or just not be very lucky to pounce. Instead of saying something like "Fuck off back to Africa" they'll just say "fuck off" I see a perfect example of this every home game. Three rows in front of me sits a very loud and very annoying man, he hates a certain player called Lenell John-Lewis aka the Shop aka Lennie. Lennie is a striker, and are teams main goal scorer, he's joint fifthed  in the Conference (at time of writing) with 13 goals. Several matches he's been the winning goal scorer, and yet despite this he's the target of incredible levels of abuse, some its frustration, he misses a few chances but so do quite a few town players, Ross Hannah's nickname is off side because he's almost always off side when he scores, and yet he never receives comparable criticism. 

Lennie's black, and Ross is white, now it could be coincidental, but then I remember the same group loudly criticising another black town player for missing a shot at the goal Aristote `Toto` Nsiala. Toto is a defender, you know a player who isn't expected to score a goal, in fact is supposed to do the opposite and prevent goals. The fact he was able to keep control of the ball from one end of the pitch to the other and take on the goalie is to me an achievement. But apparently not

And then there was a similar incident -which I will always remember as Crocoswamp- thankfully not recorded and splashed all over youtube involving some town fans on a train. I went to the Altrincham game with a few mates, it was a good day out though a very late concession turn a great win into a disappointing draw. On the train home we shared the carriage with another group of town fans, about six of them, they were pretty nice and cool at first, and were just chatting amongst themselves. Then one of them lest call him curly started moaning about Remembrance day and how you don't see many Muslims at the cenotaph. Curly then started whining about the local council and `leftists` the rest of the group laughed at him and started chanting Cameron. That annoyed Curly so he got louder and angrier, the rest of the group were trying to shut him up but in doing so they each starting coming out with racist stuff of their own. One let's call him Moe really hated immigrants (shocking) and said the penalty for crimes should be either deportation, execution or thrown in the crocodile swamp*.

It continued on like this going back and forth with them arguing over who amongst them was more racist for a good twenty minutes, getting louder and louder until finally one member of the group who had been silent till that point and shall be known as Shep said that Curly was more racist then he was and then spouted out a list of racial slurs that he claimed he used all the time. So Curly calls him a racist, Shep responds by slamming his fist into the table and screaming at the top of his lungs -and I'm not making this up- "Don't call me a racist you fucking Jew!" he then threw a beer bottle (yes they were drinking heavily) at him. He missed, and then said to they guy "you're my best friend and I love yer, but I'll drag you off this train and fucking end you" to which Curly replied "ex friend mate" Shep lost his temper now and tried to climb over the table to get at Curly whilst Moe and the others tried to hold Shep back and calm him down.

All in all a strange experience but apart from the little details like the crocodile swamp hardly unique in Football supporting circles. So racism isn't quite the fringe sentiment we'd like to believe it is. So whats the solution? well I think there's two practical options available, fans confronting racism in the stands and challenging it, that's a very long term option and may well just get the racist twits to change seats, and it can be dangerous since football related violence is still very much a thing, best to plan ahead and do it in a group if you're considering it. Or option two increase the penalties for racist behaviour, making it much, much harsher. Instead of fines and bans we could send the guilty away to a snake pit, or even banish them to the crocodile swamp.


*Surely you've been on a day out to the crocodile swamp in the Brighton everglades.

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