In response to a couple of emails I’ve received, let me clarify once more that I do not condone racist or homophobic chanting.
If you and your friends bullied and victimised someone in the street, whether it’s racial slurs or digs related about sexuality it would not be deemed anywhere near socially acceptable. If a complaint was made you’d probably be arrested and prosecuted, and deservedly so.
But where would you draw the line? If you and your mates picked on someone for being fat and sang songs about pie eating or laughed out loud at somebody’s dodgy haircut... is that worthy of police time? Probably. If it was all in jest, it would be ignored or laughed off. But gangs don’t necessarily go around picking on people in quite this way. Can’t remember ever seeing a group of hooded teenagers singing you’re gonna die in a minute to a pensioner crossing the road. Victimisation is quite obviously evident in every walk of life. And a person could complain about whatever to the police about their troublesome neighbour if they suffered a continuous relentless verbal onslaught.
Football is (was – can you feel it change with every passing season?) a different animal altogether. It has a pantomime type quality about itself with deeply religious and tribal undertones. It might be perceived more and more as a family day out, but it’s a working class game. Was. Any many hold onto the past which basked in unbridled passion and loyalty, on and off the pitch. A man could be a man at a football game. Get drunk, mug himself off, sing songs with his mates. Even kiss and hug them if the goal was worthy of it. Absolute unrivalled expression all from watching a ball being kicked about. It’s a beautiful emotional game. And the way you behave in a football ground is nothing like walking down the street or going shopping in Tescos.
The terraces and stands are also full of comedians. Thousands of them. Chants and songs range from the simplistic to the insightful, sharp and brilliant and many of them birthed in the pubs pre-game or in the midst of the game. It’s the code that exists, whether its fans screaming at fans or fans screaming at players. Within those 90 minutes of play you have your fun. Everybody knows that even if it feels like a matter of life and death, it’s only a game (cliché overdose, sorry).
Racism isn’t acceptable. And from personal experience, it’s uncommon. Although there is plenty of casual racism (although it’s debatable its casual, as something is either racist or its not). By casual racism I’m referring to calling Arsenal fans pikeys or making jokes about West Ham being full of Indian takeaways or washing elephants. Its bottom of the barrel stuff and the majority sing far better songs than stooping to this type of boring level. And obviously, there’s the term ‘yid’. Anything stronger than that you’ll likely to be arrested/ejected and banned. Which is fine in my book and probably yours.
As for homophobia, well this is quite obviously a massive issue within football. How many top players have come out? Can’t think of many, if any. Likelihood, statistically, is that there are several homosexuals within the game. And considering the image that football has from a fans perspective, it’s an obvious target by the men on the stands. Again, we can do without a lot of it. The point here is that people, generally heterosexual men, do like a joke about a gay. It’s juvenile. So if you’re going to joke about it in the pub, you’re likely to do the same at a football game – especially with the lads together vibe and the over the top heterosexuality and plastic hooligan vibe some adopt. Brighton fans are probably bored of hearing ‘Does your boyfriend know you're here?’ and yet everyone laughs at that chant. But then, that’s possibly deserving of the casual tag, no? There’s plenty more that leaves a bad taste in the mouth (ooh, oh stop it...is that joke bad taste?).
Ok, so where am I going with all this?
One on one, in the street, if you abuse someone about their sexuality, you’re likely to get done for it much the same if there’s a racist element to the abuse. Any abuse really is unacceptable. But if it’s name calling the police, if called, are more likely to defuse the situation and calm things down. If it’s ongoing it will be investigated.
In a football ground, by virtue of the culture of the game and its fans, some things are acceptable without really being socially acceptable if sang outside the ground on a normal day. Once upon a time, some fairly Neanderthal stuff was sang, but thankfully it’s no longer the 1970s and 1980s. But as noted, it’s rare to ever hear opposing fans hiss or sing songs about Auschwitz. If ever. And as for singing and chanting at players, this is as common as buying a match day programme or taking a sneaky cigarette break in the cubicles.
We take the piss. The players just get on with it. Some of them, their reply is to score and celebrate and slide in front of the away fans in a show of defiance. Others will snare at the opposing fans when the ref isn’t looking, and wind them up. If you’re earning £50K + per week, then don’t be a pussy about it. You might not like it, but everyone gets it in the neck. And most players are confident and arrogant and simply don’t care, and even love it.
And most of the time it’s tongue-in-cheek. But football is still littered with personal jokes about not being the father of your son or what your wife likes in bed. It’s usually stuff that we all know and we all like to laugh at. Why give them an easy ride? It’s tradition to sing.
When does it over-step the mark?
I guess it becomes embarrassing for many when Munich and Hillsborough are brought into the equation. Or wishing people dead, hanging from a tree or being shot or dying from a brain tumour. I’ve heard some God awful stuff at football games, from home and away fans. Footballs fans are like the Borg Collective with a demented sense of humour, all as one, exerting their power. Be it a verbal one. And in unison. There’s an air of the untouchable about it. But sometimes fans are plucked out of the stands for it. Whether it’s because of a complaint or the police being pro-active, supporting the law and club policy.
I do not condone the Sol Sol song. It’s crude. Have no intention to re-visit the argument as to whether it’s racist or not. The point that’s argued about the remaining content is obvious to all. And why it’s sang is also obvious to most. And it’s a shame that we waste our time singing this to him (be it again a minority). But it serves its purpose to get back at him and it obviously works because he mostly always struggle to come to terms with the level of noise aimed towards him. It’s relevant to state that before he had his half-time troubles in the Arsenal v West Ham game, the abuse he got was the usual type of abuse a player gets. No ambiguous or obvious undertones other than a disliking for the man.
Then he made it all an issue which saw the start of the Tottenham 16 story. He’s always tried to play the race card. He first did this years ago after (I think) after his first visit to WHL after leaving. Nobody ever took any notice of this pathetic attempt.
I also believe that the reason he pushed for prosecution on the Tottenham 16 was not so much because of what was being sang but the fact that many Spurs fans are so insistent in abusing him (note that he didn’t want anyone charged with calling him a c**nt). He can’t not expect abuse considering he’s a liar and a Judas. Some Spurs fans have moved on. Others want to remind him because he strikes them as a man who still believes he did nothing wrong. Why give him an easy day out? But still – if the police want to set an example and been seen to stamp out homophobic chanting then do so – but don’t do it as part of a witch-hunt.
Anyway, I find him and everything about him tedious. Much like many other players who get similar types of abuse. The difference is, they don’t go crying to the police. Most understand and take it on the chin.
You can get away with a lot when 10,000 people are singing the same song. And 98% of the time, it’s no less offensive than watching a stand-up comedian take the piss out of whatever, whomever.
I’m not saying, cross the line, it’s ok because it’s a football match. But if someone high up in the police force is going to knee-jerk again just because a footballer with a fragile ego complains about being victimised then best to make sure that it warrants the time and effort of the CPS and the court room and that there is actual evidence of abuse that is way beyond the normality of terrace banter.