Sunday, 30 October 2011

Fobbed off with broomsticks

Aside from my ritualistic devotion to the Gunners, I enjoy following other sports, albeit only in international competitions.  What frustrates my friends is the fact I support England/Britain at every single sport, except the one I have the most passion for- Football.  I’ll happily sing “swing low” when the Rugby is on, but when it comes to Football I’ve been a France fan since my teenage years, before the arrival of Monsieur Wenger in London I might add.

There are a few reasons for this. 

I watched a Panorama documentary about England fans at Euro 2000.  Unfortunately no videos of the broadcast are available online, but the scene which still sickens me 11 years on was the one involving England fans singing a song about World War 2 against local Dutch fans. 

I also despise the arrogance of the typical England fan, the table thumper, the one who recalls the events of July 1966 as if he was in the stadium; despite the fact he wasn’t even born. 

I detest the ignorance that because England invented the game they naturally must be the greatest and have an expectation to win World Cup’s or European Championships.  Of course this is amplified even more by the British media, but I don’t accept that this alone justifies the crude nature of England football fans.  It’s certainly not what I have found with followers of Rugby or Cricket.  Even when England lifted the World Cup in 2003, there was a humility which you just wouldn’t get with the England football fan base.  Likewise, more recently this can be seen as England have attained the status of best Test Match side in the Cricketing world.

Yet for me personally the story begins on a cold November night in 1994 at Wembley in North London where me and my father watched an England game for the very first time, an International friendly against Nigeria.  We were in the family enclosure which happened to be directly below a significant contingent of Nigerian fans.  What ensued was one of my most traumatic experiences as a football fan.  I witnessed one after another as England fans in our section, parents of accompanying young children too, racially abused the Nigerian fans sitting above.  Eventually enough was enough and as if fate would have it, an intervention from match day stewards came at the precise moment David Platt scored the only goal. 

Instead of some of the more decent fans applauding the worst antagonist of the abuse being led away, the occupiers of the Family enclosure were more concerned as to what they perceived to be an overreaction, a fuss over nothing no less.  I can still vividly recall a supporter who had also engaged in the abuse telling my Dad that it was “no big deal” and that “the stewards have nothing better to do”.

That was 17 years ago.  I have been to many football grounds since and it is true I have never experienced that level of racism since.  Yet in other ways football has not evolved from that horrid evening.  There is still a reluctance to face down this problem in England.  England fans and the English football establishment are legendary for patting themselves on the back about campaigns such as “Kick it Out” and finger wagging towards the rest of the world whenever there are incidents of racism elsewhere.  But when the problem rears its ugly head at home, there is a remarkable tendency to either look the other way or attempt to sweep the issue under the carpet.

I accept there is a bigger problem abroad; Eastern Europe resembles a time warp to a poisonous era at times.  Equally I am not for a minute suggesting that we are back in the 1980s with Bananas on the pitch as John Barnes runs down the wing. However there is now a culture that England has got rid of the problem, and cannot bear for a moment to consider the prospect that there are still elements to tackle today.  It is for this reason that people like Aragones can sneer when anybody from England attempts to offer any lectures.  A lot like my last post about people in glass houses.

When Dwight Yorke complained that he was racially abused against his former club Blackburn during a match for Birmingham in 2004, his Chairman David Sullivan had his broomstick ready for action.  Arguing that Yorke’s grievance had stemmed from an incident which had been “blown out of proportion” and then compounded his ignorance with the stereotypical response of every modern day racist- “I've got black friends, Indian friends and Jewish friends.”   At the time I reworked a well known football song to capture the events of the Spain v England match and the race row involving Yorke, Sullivan and Blackburn:

“Chim-Chiminey, Chim-Chiminey, Chim-Chim Cherrooo. The Spanish have racists, but England has too!”

It went down like a lead balloon amongst my England supporting friends, but I stand by the song today as I did in 2004.  Two recent incidents involving very high profile players threaten to rock the English football family to its very foundations.  Luis Suarez and John Terry are both alleged to have been responsible for making racist insults during two separate fixtures this month against Patrice Evra and Anton Ferdinand respectively.  Incredibly Gordon Taylor has suggested he would be ready to offer mediation services.  Mediation?  If this were not so offensive in itself it would be laughable!

Another attempt to cover up the problem as opposed to finally confront the issue head on.  I’ve had enough of English football chastising the rest of the world regarding racism in the game only to pathetically resort to a broom when it comes to its own issues.  Fans of all colours should reject the tedious act of being fobbed off with broomsticks.