by Kevin Galvin

I heard a recent story about a Man United fanzine ‘Red Issue’ who had over 8,000 copies of their publication taken off them, after printing mock miniature sized Klu Klux Klan masks before playing Liverpool in the FA Cup; the match that marked the return of Luiz Suarez having missed six games after racially abusing Evra in a previous Premier League encounter. Greater Manchester Police confiscated the issue (which cost over £10,000 to produce) citing the fact that the image may be likely to incite hatred. The MEP did later give the fanzines back but having suffered a substantial loss, a roomful of worthless fanzines was the last thing its creators wanted landing on their doorstep.

In the days following the game, fans from all over were downright indignant about the whole affair, believing their freedom of speech to be taken from them, in a country that’s becoming more and more politically correct and multi-denominational. Others said the police had full right to take something which was likely to add fuel to a fire between two sets of supporters that already hate each others guts. Police clash every year with fans from both sides, trying to keep the peace in a fixture that has provided many-a-skirmish in previous years between Lancashire’s proudest clubs.

This got me thinking however, as our world becomes more politically correct, and as people are more afraid now than ever of treading on each others toes, is football starting to fall foul of the PC brigade? The light-hearted banter between rival fans in their unending struggle to outdo each other has defined entire areas, and provided people the chance to express themselves in this world where the term ‘actress’ is sexist and the ‘holiday period’ is everyone else’s Christmas. While most people can agree that breaking social and racial barriers is something to be applauded, the human ability to form one’s own opinion is not one that should be disrespected, or ignored.

No more so do we see this terrace culture of fear than at the Emirates stadium. When was the last time you heard something controversial chanted from the stands at Arsenal or the last time you heard something funny sung by the 55,000 strong Gunners support? As a matter of fact, when was the last time you heard anything chanted from a home Arsenal end? Football has been taken from the average person and given to those who are there to be seen, not heard. The complete sanitation of Arsenal’s ‘Match-day experience’ has alienated many of the Gunners’ hard-core support, who instead can be heard belting out Arsenal songs of old at away-ends all over the country.

Even the fanzine itself, once the proud symbol of the terrace, and a forum for your average punter to express their opinion, has slowly faded to the background. In the publication’s heyday, nearly every club around Britain and Ireland had its own independent fanzine; but as fans get extracted from the heart of their club, and the celebration of the written word is sacrificed, the bland, unquestioning drivel we read in a match-day ‘magazine‘ serves as our representative. It’s like an interview with a politician. We know nothing interesting will be said, but we can’t help but read on regardless.

One of the very many lures of being a football fan is the ability to extract oneself from societies conforms even just for an hour and a half. The chance to create our own heroes and villains, and treat them accordingly is one that’s little afforded as part of everyday life. To have an affliction for one team and abuse all others brings a contorted sense of enjoyment that runs through us all. We want to see their striker trip over his shoelaces and fall face first on the turf, we want to gesture and roar with frustration as yet another decision goes against us. The experience of participating in a melodrama shared by thousands of others brings people together, and sometimes tears them apart.

With all this going on it’s the sort of absurd connections made by ‘Red Issue’ that can offer us some sort of clarity and perspective amongst the madness of the 90 minutes. Of course we will all have different opinions, some politically correct, some not so. But if we don’t do something now to salvage our terrace culture it will be taken from us forever. It may be too late for the fans of Arsenal Football Club, but to all of you others, stick your chest out, throw your shoulders back and let out a roar of your favourite chant. For we are all sane in this world of madness, and we will not be silenced.