Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Intolerance in the Terraces

It has been a dark fortnight for the game of football in the UK. After the sexist comments made by Sky Sports presenters Andy Grey and Richard Keys there was widespread public outrage. Understandably so, of course.

Due to the sheer volume of material produced about said incident, I have hitherto abstained from writing about it. Indeed, I still do not intend to revert back to all that has been said and done. The fact remains, though, that no one ought to have been in any way surprised by the views they held. Yes, the fact they had been foolish enough to broadcast these views on more than one occasion is perhaps somewhat surprising. Nevertheless, they merely showed us what we already knew – that such out-dated opinions are inherent within football.

The unpleasant truth lying behind the whole story is that football stadiums remain home to a minority of people who are, in some ways at least, very much behind the times. Some people, and it must be recognised as only being a minority of people, leave notions of acceptable social behaviour at the turnstiles and instead, for two hours every Saturday afternoon, act in ways that cannot be condoned in modern society. Unfortunately, we all know this to be true.

Sexism is just one area in which football is lagging behind the times. Homophobia and racism are also both far too commonplace within the game in this country.

There is widespread casual racism from the fans in all stadiums. Fans will unite to sing about how Park Ji Sung eats dogs, Adebayor's dad washes elephants and Kenwyne Jones sells watches on the beach. Although this cannot be deemed acceptable in any way, it remains a lighter side to the racism present in the terraces. This is the 'acceptable face of racism' that is all too widespread.

More concerningly however, there are pockets of football fanatics at stadiums up and down the country who partake in racial abuse every weekend that is much darker than these chants. When a black player goes to retrieve the ball, take a corner or is suspected of unsportsmanlike behaviour, they are subjected to obscenities that are more suited to the deep south of the USA in the 19th Century than a 21st Century developed country. These comments are not meant in a light-hearted manner but have far more disturbing and sinister motivations.

The reason I am writing this, not that a reason is necessarily needed to address an issue with such gravitas, is that today I began on the road to making a film about the racial intolerance that can be found in the terraces of football stadia in England. Hopefully working with the 'Let's Kick Racism out of Football' campaign, players of past & present and football clubs across the country, I will be:
  • Exploring just how commonplace and serious this problem is.
  • Examining why football stadiums act as hotbeds for such behaviour
  • Assessing what exactly is being done, and indeed what can be done, to eradicate this problem.

As such, this is almost certainly an issue that I will be returning to over the coming months as the project develops.

Thoughts, comments and opinions please...


  1. There are a couple of factors that lead to this kind of behavior.
    Football (and sport in general) emphasizes manly behavior and what can be more manly than insulting minorities.
    Another factor is the mob mentality that's created when you get people gathering together in a highly emotional situation. Many will believe their behavior will get lost in the crowd and as such it makes it OK.
    The only way it will get eliminated is if those that don't agree with it make it known by voicing their disdain and ostracizing those who conduct themselves this way. In many ways this is already happening but there's still a long way to go.
    Those are just my thoughts

  2. CanadianGeordie, I agree with your second point.
    'Mob mentality' is central to the problem. As I say, because thousands of people around you are singing these songs it makes it seem like the 'acceptable face of racism'.
    How the problem will be eradicated is the big question. Clubs seem to turn a blind eye to the issue. They create family stands in recognition that other pockets of fans behave themselves in a way that children should not be exposed to - I think that speaks volumes. The hardcore fans are often grouped together and allowed to say or do what they like in terraces. It is a very serious form of racism that is simply baffling in the modern day. I think other fans voicing their disapproval would be a good start but the clubs themselves need to make a stand.
    Thanks for the comment.

  3. It's improved immeasurably from the days when it was considered acceptable to jump about making monkey noises or sing songs about Spurs fans going to concentration camps. At one level, abuse can be attributed to the fact that a football stadium is one of the few places where people can freely scream abuse at players and authority figures (in the form of the referee and board of directors). With racism, though, I think Canadian Geordie has hit the nail on the head. You're right, too, about clubs turning a blind eye. It's easy to pay lip service to eradicating racial abuse, but how often do people actually get thrown out of a stadium for it?

  4. There's also a lot of intimidation in the stands too, stopping the majority of fairminded people from complaining about the minority you mention. Complain and get a whack. A few weeks ago a gentleman got badly beaten at Stoke City by his own fans for making the faux pas of blocking their view as he looked to get out of the ground a few minutes before full-time.

    People sat around the guys who did it were, quite understandably, too shocked and fearful to react at the time.

    And let's not forget that stewards have an almost entirely thankless and horrible job to do. They need to be better supported by police and clubs.

  5. Nick and Michael, thanks for the comments - I agree with what you both say.

    It is a thankless task trying to police such an issue. Stewards will be featuring in the film to explain how fruitless a job it is to try and tackle such a problem. Mass intimidation means it is unrealistic to expect fans to do anything about it and it is so commonplace that it is hard for the clubs themselves to eradicate the problem.

    Stricter rules and regulations need to be set across the leagues and then enforced as effectively and efficiently as possible. It is a monumental challenge but one that cannot be shied away from.

    Kick it Out and FSF have both jumped on board with the film so will be really interesting to see how this project develops and to see what people inside the FA or the clubs themselves have to say on the matter... if I am able to get to speak to any of them.

  6. It is a pity that sports aren't a exception to that kind of behaviors. but it is growing and eventually won't be a problem.


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