People are rightly outraged about the behaviour of a gang of Chelsea fans on the Paris Metro. Some commentators are expressing genuine surprise that this sort of thing still goes on. Even old players such as Brendan Batson are expressing their disbelief that in 2015, football can still act as the host for malignancies like racism. It’s Kenco time.
I can only assume that those who are shaking their heads in disapproval or disgust have been watching football from the “Prawn Sandwich” sections of the football grounds of England. While the days of mass chanting of rascist abuse have gone, you would be extremely naïve if you believed that it does not exist anymore.
The advent of all-seater grounds played its part, so too did the CCTVisation of Britain. But mostly, I would like to think, we have made some social progress. But some of it is only skin deep, I’m afraid.
Our football grounds are well policed in Britain – outside the stadium, that is. Inside, most clubs employ lots of hi-vis jackets, but most stewards have no power or inclination to weed-out the offenders. Sit in any stadium and you will come across pockets of racism. This past two seasons, I have heard it at Premier, Championship and non-league level.
When Tottenham played Partizan in the Europa League, a hardened terrace veteran took his place in the stand. He was adjacent to the visiting fans. He was classic “Football Factory”, thick necked, Stone Island-clad, tattooed knuckles. He was in his 50s. He spent the entire first half hurling abuse at the Partizan fans: “Rapists and murderers.” A steward stood no more than 20 feet away and watched for the entire 45 minutes.
That same person then turned on a Spurs fan who was black. “What you doing here,” he said to the youngster, prodding him. “Watching my team,” was the reply. “Why don’t you **** off to Arsenal or Chelsea, we don’t want your sort here.” There were a few shocked faces, but nobody did a thing.
Likewise, I was at Chelsea when Aston Villa were in town. Christian Benteke took the field. “Look at that big black Belgian bastard,” said one Shed End regular. “He’s like a gorilla.” And I heard similar remarks about Chelsea’s own Solomon Kalou and Florent Malouda when they played at Stamford Bridge.
But the worst and most virulent example of racism I have seen in recent years was at Wembley in the FA Cup final 2012. Liverpool fans dashed to the front of the stand and threw every possible offensive remark imaginable at their former players like Fernando Torres. And again, it was not youngsters insulting the players, but 50-somethings upset at Torres defecting to Chelsea. How this was not reported somewhere or even noted at the game is a mystery.
Even down at non-league games, you can hear inappropriate comments. Wingate & Finchley, a Jewish club by heritage, have been called “Jew Boys” and references to Asian players wanting to open a shop when they are awarded a corner are not uncommon.
The point is, if you listen hard enough, you will hear comments not dissimilar to those witnessed in Paris. I honestly believe that some people are in denial. Although we live in an age where political correctness has become part of corporate culture, there are vast swathes of society where ignorance and intolerance still prevail. Perhaps the football grandees should pay a visit to the popular sides of the nation’s stadiums to get a better picture.