English Football

Sadly, looking the other way is the norm

Channel 4 Dispatches produced an excellent and revealing programme about racist and homophobic chanting at football matches and the lack of a credible reaction from stewards and police alike. It’s about time that this was highlighted, for time and again, bad behavior at games is ignored by those in high-visibility jackets.

It depends on who the perpetrators are. If it’s Millwall, West Ham or any of the other clubs with “reputations”, very little will be done. If it’s Torquay United, Accrington Stanley or Bury, you can bet your last Rolo that the men in day-glo yellow will steam in.

It’s not just language. Pay £60 for a seat and don’t get the chance to sit in it. That’s pretty commonplace at the big grounds. Yet “persistent standing” is supposedly against ground rules. But do they do anything about it? No, unless you happen to be a visiting supporter, especially from overseas. Some clubs employ menacing stewards who look like extras from a British National Party conference. Others, such as those I met at Ipswich Town, are game old cocks who like a chat with the fans, even assisting them to their seats as they balance their cup of tea or burger.  At Sheffield United, it was more the former than the latter, with stewards pulling people out of the crowd with all the sensitivity of the Hells Angels at Altamont.

As the Channel 4 programme demonstrated, the FA just issue platitudes and spout details of initiatives and projects they are running, often just to give people meaningful roles within their own organization. This is akin to the sort of “say everything, say nothing” response BBC Radio 4 gets when they interview politicians or corporate leaders.

Mostly, stewards don’t want to get involved and who can blame them? They didn’t come to the game to get a thump on the head. They will look the other way as ignorant and racist fans taunt their opponents. The worst and sickest example, by far, is the “hissing” noise (mimicking the sound of gas) made by fans visiting Tottenham. As someone who has visited a concentration camp and seen the systematic murdering machine that was Auschwitz, this sort of behavior should be punishable by incarceration. If I were a Tottenham official, I would ban any set of anti-semitic or racist fans.

So what do we have police for if not to ensure the law is enforced? There is no shortage of policemen at these games, indeed, the sort of supporters that resort to this form of language are usually well marshaled.  I get the feeling that the police think their role at football is traffic control (both automobiles and humans) and barking instructions through loud-hailers about routes to the railway station. But when offensive chants are brought to their attention, they kick the can down the road or claim “I never heard it”. Are they deaf as well as irresponsible? For Christ’s sake, we live in a CCTV world – there’s no excuse.

If the authorities are not going to deal with it, it is time for grounds to be closed or at least, partially closed to show that it won’t be tolerated. Or perhaps players should leave the field a la AC Milan? The first club that decides to close an “end” or stand where the offences are committed will win a lot of respect. “One-out, all-out” will soon have an impact. OK, it is punishing innocent people, too, but take your mind back to your schooldays – when a couple of class members misbehaved, quite often the whole class was  punished. The good guys soon let it be known they were unhappy with the culprits. And nobody will want to sit among an end full of criminals.

It’s time to stop looking the other way – “The only thing that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”*

*Edmund Burke

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