Now that I live in LA I don’t get quite the same opportunities to chat about football, so when this week’s Chelsea fan racism piqued my interest I wondered how I could engage in a forthright debate on the topic. Unfortunately for those among you who aren’t into football or racism, I have selected this blog as the forum for that debate. The rest of you, please read on, and do add to the chat in the comments section.
I should start by making two things clear: first, I support Arsenal; second, I dislike much of what Chelsea does, stands for and represents.
Now that’s clear, here’s a video of what some Chelsea fans did on the Paris Metro last week. Further information has since come out about this incident, regarding the people involved and their connections to certain political parties (AHEM – UKIP). You can Google the heck out of it if you like, but a few additional facts:
they were singing a song about how they love their team captain John Terry because he’s racist.
John Terry was found guilty by the FA – but not by a court of law – of ‘using a racial insult’ in 2011.
The FA fined him two weeks’ wages and stripped of the England captaincy.
If Chelsea punished Terry for this they did so ‘in private’. It’s possible did not punish him at all, particularly as several senior employees of the club acted as character witnesses in Terry’s cases; more here.
So those are some facts. Now for some opinions:
Had Chelsea had publicly punished, or even fired, John Terry (after all, many people, if found guilty of using a racial insult by their industry administrative body, would be fired, and if this had been a reserve goalie rather than the team captain it feels a tad more likely that Chelsea might have done that) then it might have sent a message of zero tolerance with regard to racism and reduced the delight these fans seemed to take in having a racist captain.
You might reply that Chelsea does indeed have a ‘zero tolerance’ policy regarding racism, but I would argue that the Terry punishment shows clearly that instead they have a ‘slight tolerance’ policy towards racism. Of course, it would be insane for anyone in this day and age to claim anything other than zero tolerance when it comes to racism (‘Yes, well ‘zero’ seemed a bit much for us, so we do allow the occasional cross burning by the corner flags’), but when push comes to shove what does that actually mean, and what are the consequences?
As the Telegraph article suggests, Chelsea do indeed do many nice things, such as paying the Living Wage, something no other club does, apparently. It has also saved Aldershot FC from bankruptcy and raises a lot of money for charity (not so unusual). They also condemned the racist thugs from the Paris Metro and have banned them from the ground pending further investigation. Then they invited the victim to come to Stamford Bridge and see for himself how lovely the non-racist Chelsea fans really are.
All well and good, but there is now news of further racism, as well as many eye witness reports of other acts of racism amongst the fans that happen with great regularity:
As a lifelong Spurs fan I, and many thousands of others, have been the victims of vitriolic antisemitic abuse at Chelsea FC on a scale not even matched at similarly racially motivated West Ham Utd. For the 30 years I have followed Spurs to away games – in pubs, around tube stations, on the streets around the ground and within Stamford Bridge itself, the venom, ignorance and breathtaking casualness of Chelsea fans’ references to Jews, Auschwitz, the Holocaust and foreskins, often accompanied by a hissing simulation of gas chambers, is simply shocking – not least because it goes unchallenged by police, stewards or the club itself, bar a token reference furtively hidden away in the match-day programme.
I’m certainly not saying that Chelsea is the only club with racist fans, indeed I’d bet all the money I have that there are even some who support Arsenal, but Chelsea seem to have the most obvious and the most deep-rooted. They even have a famous group of supporters, the Headhunters, who have links to the neo-Nazi group Combat 18 (the 1 and the 8 refer to the position in the alphabet of Adolph Hitler’s initials). So Chelsea have a history of strong racism and indeed the crowd shouted abuse at Anton Ferdinand, the victim of Terry’s racist insult, the following time Chelsea played his team, QPR. The club then promised to root out the offenders, but unless that also happened ‘in private’ that didn’t actually happen, suggesting a little more tolerance to annoying old racism.
So tough on racism, but not really on the causes of racism. Zero tolerance so long it doesn’t weaken their team or displease their fanbase. All the right gestures but little effective action. And that’s strange for a team that’s has had many great black players and is owned by a Jewish man.
This weekend they play Spurs, the team famous for having the most Jewish supporters in the league. I assume the club intends to place staff amongst the fans and call for the arrest of anyone who chants about the Holocaust or hisses like an Auschwitz gas chamber.
Actually, I assume it’ll be business as usual, and anyone who feels uncomfortable about that can rest assured Chelsea will be handing out a few more of these on its next ‘Equality Day’:
Three cheers for that…