by Michael Slaughter
This weekend’s FA cup ties contained two derbies which under normal circumstances would perhaps expected to be, at least, a bit heated. But, of course, this time there was a major sub-text which threatened to overshadow the actual action on the pitch, as the fans and media alike stoked up flames which could have been extinguished long ago.
I will start this with a caveat, which is that obviously the actions of one or two people don’t tar all of the fans of a club with the same brush, and by and large most football fans don’t fall into the bigoted extremes which have been on display in the past. But, the way in which some Liverpool and Chelsea fans have offered their unwavering support of the offending players has really confused me. I doubt I really need to retell the stories and allegations that surrounded this weekend’s Liverpool vs Manchester United and QPR vs Chelsea ties, but in case you’ve been living under a rock with your fingers in your ears for the last few months, both Luis Suarez and John Terry were accused of making racist gestures to Patrice Evra and Anton Ferdinand respectively, with Suarez being banned for 8 games by the FA and John Terry soon to be taken to court over the alleged offence.
In the case of Suarez, a lot of Liverpool fans, probably spurred on by manager Kenny Dalglish, have immediately assumed that there is a conspiracy against Suarez and the club in general because of course everyone else in the world hates LFC and wants to keep them from being the powerhouses they once were. The theory seems to be that because Suarez is foreign, he can’t possibly be aware that what he was saying to Evra is completely unacceptable in British culture and thus he should be let off, and in any case it just ‘banter’.
This extreme support came to a shocking nadir this weekend when some cowardly fuck sent a bullet in the post to QPR
While I understood Liverpool fans defending their player before all of the details of the case had been released, after his hearing and the subsequent report that was released, I really can’t understand how any right-minded Liverpool fan can still think he is innocent and then think that its ok to boo Evra every time he touched the ball on Saturday. Why are they booing him? For being racially abused by Suarez and having the temerity to report it? Or maybe it’s because they can’t see past the fact that Evra is a player for a rival club, and thus must be lying.
It’s a similar situation at Chelsea, where the fans’ unwavering support of the club and Mr Chelsea himself has led to Anton Ferdinand coming under similar fire from Chelsea fans who seem to think that that he must be lying because ‘England’s lion’ is a shining example of moral virtue, who has never done anything wrong in the past. Ever… Chelsea fans seem to support Terry just as much as they do the club itself, and even booed Wayne Bridge for having the sheer gall to complain when Terry slept with Bridge’s girlfriend because he, rightfully, bought a media shit storm down on to their captain’s head. This extreme support came to a shocking nadir just before the game this weekend when some cowardly fuck sent a bullet in the post to QPR presumably in an effort to scare Ferdinand from testifying, and to stop John Terry from having his name dragged through even more mud than ever before. Unless of course Neil Warnock is just really sick of Joey Barton spewing his bullshit on Twitter like the rest of us.
The problem is that the deference of the moderate fans towards their star players creates the atmosphere where the tiny bigoted minority can justify the appalling actions they commit in the name of support. Whether that’s abusing a 20 year-old Oldham player for no apparent reason, appearing to make monkey gestures or even just ill-judged chants in the stands, the siege mentality created by the majority means that it’s all justified in the warped minds of the moronic minority.
The vast majority of British society is happy to be outraged at anything until it becomes an inconvenience.
Although I’m a United fan, and to some fans that will entirely discredit everything I’ve written because I’ve probably got a vested interest in rival players being banned, I’d like to think that if any United players were stupid enough to find themselves in a similar situation to Suarez or Terry, I wouldn’t blindly back them just because they play for the club I support. Maybe it’s because I grew up somewhere there isn’t really much local football, so that intense rivalry that comes from growing up in London or Manchester, for example, is a bit lost on me. Even so, I still think that the tribalism that surrounds football teams is ridiculous. While I enjoy watching football and I do get caught up in the drama of it all, ultimately an issue like racism is more important than a sport. Despite the ramblings of Sepp Blatter, any racism on the pitch should be dealt with as severely as it would outside the pitch because it’s simply unacceptable, anywhere. Calling it ‘banter’ which can be brushed over with a handshake really diminishes the efforts of the kick it out campaign and also all of the pioneering black football players who were subjected to horrific abuse throughout their careers, but persevered so that today black players can play without fear of violence or abuse just for having different coloured skin.
While this may seem overly pessimistic, the last few weeks have confirmed something to me that I always suspected, which is that the vast majority of British society is happy to be outraged at anything until it becomes an inconvenience. I’m sure that most Liverpool and Chelsea fans that have defended Suarez and Terry would have been the same fans that were criticising Blatter for his idiotic comments a few months ago or the Bulgarian fans who were abusing black England players during the Euro 2012 qualifiers. But now, it’s in their back garden and suddenly there’s mitigating circumstances or it’s a conspiracy against us blah blah blah… I wonder if the shoe was on the other foot, these fans would be so quick to leap to the defence of their accusers? Somehow, and somewhat depressingly, I don’t think so.