by Ben Rushworth

Supporting Wigan Athletic has always been full of ups and downs. I’m nearly thirty now, so I became fully aware of football and my club’s place within it in the mid-to-late nineties. My dad tried his best to get me into Bradford City – he bought me a season ticket for their brief stay in the Premier League – but he gave up when they were beating Chelsea 2-0 and I was frantically texting someone to find out Latics had drawn 0-0 at Cheltenham. I lived in Wigan until I left for university at eighteen, and then came back for five more years after graduation. It’ll always be home.

The downs? Well, it’s never been the best-supported club in the world. Wigan is a town of 80,000 people roughly equidistant from Liverpool and Manchester, each of which has two big and storied football clubs. Wigan joined the Football League in 1978, so anyone who’s about 40ish didn’t even have them as a choice when they were growing up and forming their lifetime allegiance. It’s not a place young and gifted footballers grow up dreaming of playing in.

However, I have been lucky enough that there have been far more ups, both metaphorically and literally. The season in which I started going to Wigan regularly we won the Nationwide Third from Fulham, and my first relegation was last year’s from the Premier League. Even then the club did their best to soften the blow by winning the FA Cup three days previously. There has obviously been frustration and long losing runs, but there has been more than enough suspense and joy to compensate. This season, though, I find myself seriously (albeit temporarily) considering a one-man boycott, if that’s not too grand a title, of the club I love. The reason is Malcolm George Mackay.

Mr. Mackay has had a fairly good if not exactly stellar managerial record in the second tier, having won roughly half of his games at that level. He’s experienced, he’s won the division before, and there was a lot of sympathy for him when he was undermined by the owner at Cardiff after promotion, who played an excellent pantomime villain. All other things being equal, while I personally would’ve preferred Pulis or Steve Clarke, I would have been keen to see what impact (if any) he had on my team. But that is not, obviously, the whole picture.

I don’t need to go into the story here, because people spending their valuable time reading the Cutter will be familiar with it already. But if you were to play Bigot Bingo, a short game of my own devising, Mackay would score highly. We’ve got “Fkn chinkys. Fk it. There’s enough dogs in Cardiff for us all to go around” (racism); “Nothing like a Jew that sees money slipping through his fingers” (anti-semitism); “He’s a snake, a gay snake. Not to be trusted.” (homophobia); “I hope she’s looking after your needs. I bet you’d love a bounce on her falsies.” (sexism); and “Not many white faces amongst that lot but worth considering.” (oh, that’ll be racism again). If he’d been saying that about my partner, my family or any of my friends I’d think it was despicable – it’s no less despicable just because I happen not to be related to the subjects. To compound it, the defence trotted out was that it was just “banter”; a word that has recently lost its actual meaning in favour of defending harassment and even threatening behaviour both online and in the real world. The key thing about banter is that by definition it’s a witty, teasing conversation in which the subjects of the deprecating statements are both present and aware of the context. As soon as the “witty” comments are about someone, or a group of someones, who are not present it stops being banter and just starts being, in Mackay’s case, unpleasant bigotry.

I’m aware that these were intended to be private messages. I’m aware that Mackay has apologised, and that Dave Whelan (not, surprisingly, a member of any of the groups Mackay was “bantering” about) thinks it’s now time to move on. However, my issue with this is that Mackay has only apologised for the messages becoming public, and it seems fairly likely that he still holds the views that led him to send them in the first place. Of course I don’t know for sure, but I suspect he isn’t quite sure what all the fuss is about. Well, the female fans I know aren’t pleased; Kick It Out have been as critical as they’ve ever been; and one of the club’s shirt sponsors have withdrawn from their contract with the club, describing their position as untenable. Whether Mackay understands it or not, people are upset with him.

The controversy has since extended to Whelan himself as he has become embroiled in an anti-semitic row of his own. I think in his mind the idea of Jewish people “chasing money” is some sort of perverse business-based compliment, hence his follow-up of “I think they’re a very shrewd people.” He also seems to equate the epithet “chinks” with the short-hand “Brits”, which is palpably nonsense because “Brits” is an English word used by native Britons describing themselves, not a derogatory term employed by speakers of another language. I suspect there are varied unpleasant epithets for the British in myriad languages worldwide because of our propensity to claim large parts of it as our own, but “Brits” is not one of them. At any rate, regardless of what Whelan seems to think (and he is likely a product of his generation, the inappropriate granddad at the dinner table whom everyone indulges) the clues are usually to be found in the reactions of those being talked about. If a large number of people are independently telling you that they find your chosen word for or attitude towards them to be unacceptable, it’s probably not because they like the sound of their own voices.

I don’t expect everyone to agree with my principles, and I have honestly tried my best to reconcile them with my love for my club. I could never wish defeats or relegation on my team even if it hastened the day when this man is no longer in charge of it – I will always wish them well. I am not starting a campaign or asking anyone to join me. But as much as I love it, some things are more important and for me this is one of them. So until Mackay leaves, I won’t be giving them my money, whether it’s buying tickets, or next season’s shirts, or anything else. Depressingly, it seems to me that there’s more and more stuff every year that you have to force yourself to ignore if “the beautiful game” is to remain a valid moniker.