It was once said that ‘Football isn’t about life or death, it’s much more important than that.’ Quite honestly, when Bill Shankly said this he couldn’t have been more wrong. We’ve all been in the stands screaming at our striker for missing a gilt edged sitter, we’ve swore at their striker for scoring a deflected twenty yard, we’ve felt hatred with unrivaled passion but fans in the stands have a responsibility to keep their songs and chants in check. Perspective must be gained.
Recently, with regards fans in the stands, there have been stories of ‘banter’ going too far – Arsenal fans singing songs about the Togo shootings, Everton singing about Hillsborough, Leeds and United exchanging insults about the Turkish murders and Munich. Quite simply this isn’t what football is about. It needs to be eradicated from the stands as quickly as possible and with the sad news of young United fan Jack Marshall’s far too early passing, football must realise its place, and fans their duty, to the game. A perspective must be placed on the game we love. Football isn’t a place to cheer the worst that life offers. It’s a place to celebrate some of the best.
I was listening to TalkSPORT the other morning to hear an Arsenal fan defend the Togo chants aimed at Adebayor. He claimed that it was ‘in jest’ and ‘only banter’. How, I have to ask, can chanting and singing about an incident that saw footballers shot and their coach driver murdered be classed as banter? This is so far removed from football and, indeed, banter it’s outrageous to hear this in 2011.
The game and society has, apparently and allegedly, moved on drastically since the 1970s. Back then fans crushed into terraces after ripping local bars and shops apart. Hooliganism was rife as was racism. These objectionable, at best, practices have been phased out of the fans’ experiences of match days over the years aided, in no small part, by great work by campaigns such as ‘Kick it Out’. Why then, is racism now beginning to rear it’s ugly head again? I am truly gob smacked to hear of Chelsea fans abuse of Anton Ferdinand during their most recent European adventure. In the 1980s Chelsea thugs used to regularly abuse their own player, Paul Canoville, from the stands with racist taunts. Hasn’t the game, haven’t they, moved on since then? I don’t want to point out the bleeding obvious to these bleeding obvious morons but a large part of their success in recent years has been down to black players; Drogba, Cole, Mikel, Malouda, Essien not to mention Desailly and Gallas of former years!
It’s not limiting itself to racism either. In 2008 Mido, then of Middlesbrough, was subjected to Islamophobic chants. If we’re talking of responsibility that today’s football crowds have then, in today’s times, surely trying to extinguish the flames of islamophobia amid heightened tensions post 9/11 and an increase in support for right wing politics, must be high on the agenda?
Religious based abuse has no place in football. Chelsea, and I sincerely don’t intend this piece to be an opportunity to slate our London rivals – they just seem to be serial offenders of many of these crimes, verbally assaulted their own then manager, Avram Grant, with anti-Semitic chants; Grant’s own father was a Polish Holocaust survivor. I’m sure he would have been proud of his club’s fans, their chants and the death threats and anti-Semitic post that he also received.
I just stated that religious based abuse has no place in football and it’s something I’ll stand squarely by. Glaswegian fans need to look at this too. For Neil Lennon, a Catholic Northern Irishman, to be hit metaphorically and literally by abuse is truly beyond comprehension. I know, as we all do, the history of the two Glasgow giants and understand why each club was set up and why there is such distain for each other. However, what of the players and staff of the modern day Celtic and Rangers? Do they deserve to be subjected to such abuse? I think not.
Let’s not kid ourselves, either, United fans have a checkered past in the department of abhorrent chants from the stands. Our own @jaymotty was present at Elland Road recently and was witness to some fans jeering the Leeds crowd with taunts of the previously mentioned Turkish murders. It’s incredulous that some of our own fans’ retort to why they did this was because ‘they started it’ with their chants of Munich supported by paper airplanes. Are we, as a fan base, really not above a ‘they started it’ fight?
This goes for recent debates between United and Liverpool fans jeering each other over Munich and Hillsborough. Are we, as football fans of any club, that low to celebrate the loss of human life? If I’m brutally honest, and one can’t really quantify or rank one abuse as worse or ‘less-worse’ than the other but will anyway, the Hillsborough chants are somewhat worse, more offensive and harder to justify. What happened at Hillsborough hit football. It was an attack to the soul and being of Liverpool but it left football severely wounded too and the footballing world, as it did with Heysel, put its collective arm around Liverpool. Those disasters helped put differences aside and football fans from all corners realised that this was their brethren. Now? It appears that the football fan is detatching itself from its duties as a supporter of football.
I’m not going to ask fans, a la David Cameron, to go and hug a Scouse. I’m not even asking you to like a Leeds, Arsenal or City fan. I’m just asking fans to remember why they pay such high fees to enter a ground – to see the team that play for them. It’s time for us to play our part for them too.
Follow me at @matthew_james7