Yet another story about racism in football! I can hear your groans, dear readers. This is a subject that has been flogged beyond saturation in recent months. From the “monkey-dance” craze sweeping the Eastern European football stands to Loius Suarez, John Terry and Jerome Boateng who finally decided enough was enough. Surely, there are more important things going on in the world. But it’s the weekend; you might run out of things to discuss down the pub later this evening, so please indulge my rambling for just a few short paragraphs.
Earlier this week, West London Magistrate’s court found a man guilty of racially abusing two football players. William Blything, an Everton fan, was alleged to have committed this offence during a premier league match between QPR and Everton at Loftus road on 21st October.
Now, there are a couple of things I can say in argument for this man. First of all, he was convicted based solely on the testimony of another fan who managed to pick out his racist comments from the cacophony of hoots and inebriate chants that you would expect from a football stand on a typical match-day. His two victims, one of whom was from his own team, were unaware of this alleged abuse and were not in any way involved in the trial. But his strongest defence, one that he himself repeated over and over again, was that his daughter has a black boyfriend and he has black grandchildren, thus he can not possibly be a racist. Now, this last point is what has compelled me to write this post, because it is an excuse I have heard before.
This is an issue that goes beyond the football stands.
Britain has one of the highest numbers of mixed parentage in Europe and there is bound to be a good number of people out there who can trump up a black relative or friend somewhere when they’ve overstepped the mark. William Blything should realise that he was not convicted of being a racist but of “Racially Aggravated Harassment”. Racism in itself is a charge that is almost impossible to prove in a court of law as it is merely an ideology; a belief; the principles by which you live and raise your family. You can say what you don’t believe and believe what you don’t say, but you have to take responsibility for whatever damage it does to your audience.
So is William Blything a racist? I don’t know, and neither do the courts. But, thankfully, that was never the question. They asked whether he uttered a racially aggravated comment and, thanks to the testimony of a few witnesses, the answer was yes. He will serve his time and it probably won’t change his relationship with his black grandchildren when he goes back home, because they are his family and they know what he is and what he isn’t.
But if I was one of his grandchildren, I would ask Blything another question that is not really that important to a court of law, but one that I believe is a core principle by which we can build a tolerant society. I would say: “Grandpa, your comments in the heat of the moment mean nothing to me since I know who you really are, but let’s imagine there were a group of innocent children like me in that stand, too young to have formed any political opinions of their own. Now, after your exuberant chants, how many of those kids would you say you persuaded not to grow up to be racists?”
I am a football supporter, but as a religious person, there are moments when I view football fanaticism as a 20-billion-pound-a-year worth of madness. There are folks from poor African villages unable to feed their own families, living under the proverbial dollar-a-day, who will happily pay three times that amount to watch a live premiership match; I have seen friends descend to near-suicidal depression because their team lost a football game; the perplexing dilemma between real responsibilities towards loved ones and that unfathomable devotion to a group of men kicking a ball has led to the demise of many a family. There are more football fans around the world than there are Christians (the largest religious group on the planet).
At the time Blything was cussing at Loftus Road he was going out on TV to hundreds of millions of viewers of all ages and creed. Perhaps this is not what he wanted when he started watching football as a young boy. Maybe his lure to the football stand was escapism; a place where a hardworking man can go and let loose without fear of offending anyone; an occult gathering of like minded people where you don’t have to worry about weighing your words before you deliver them.
But football has moved on. And, whilst some traditional conservative supporters may not appreciate this, their team certainly needs this change. That’s why they are fighting to get to the top where they can then play teams in Europe and around the world. To do this, they are going to have to get over their fear of alien cultures and learn a thing or two about how other people live. Who knows, it might even be fun. If this is not what you want, then I believe there is still an exclusive group of white radicals somewhere who occasionally meet up in some obscure forest wearing white pillowcases over their heads to do whatever makes them happy. You might want to try them.
Like I said, I am a supporter myself and I have been to enough premiership games. I have sat in the expensive stands where fans are relatively reserved and amongst the cheap rowdy lot in the far flung corners. And I have to say that for an extrovert personality, these rowdy stands can be great fun. Profanities aside, there is nothing quite like holding hands with a stranger belting out your favourite club anthems when you are winning. Over the past few days, in the safety of my shower, I’ve tried doing renditions of some of these football favourites but without the profanities. It’s easy, English is a beautiful language with a rich vocabulary; give me one obscenity and I’ll find you ten elegant words that can rhyme in its place just as well. And the songs sound just as good if not better.
My point is that with this prodigious wealth and following football boasts, come responsibility. It is not enough to say that if what’s going on in the stands is merely a reflection of what’s going on in society, then that’s okay. An organisation with followers exceeding a third of the world’s population must aim to change society for the better. Churches don’t open their doors to robbers and drug dealers just to have a fair representation in their congregation, they do it with the sole purpose of changing them and making them better people. We have to try another way to support our team in the best way we can without harming others. It might take off and prove even more popular; the guy who departed to join the pillowcase-wearers in the forest may be convinced to rejoin this new wave of cheerleading that he can comfortably share with his children and grandchildren. Heck, he might even bring back some of his friends from the forest.
Football can do this; get even just one person to hang up his pillowcase and join the real world. It is one thing football can give back to that poor fellow who starved himself for a couple of days to be able to afford a game. Maybe then, he could go to sleep with the satisfaction that his sacrifice was for the greater good.
Have wonderful weekend.
For more about me and my projects visit www.michaeloren.co.uk