The news and video of a bunch of Chelsea hooligans shoving a black guy off a train in Paris has gone viral.
This is “news” in the “dog bites man” category for anyone who has ever had the misfortune of travelling on public transport on match day in England.
I lived for over 20 years in London’s East End and always planned my travel arrangements on match days to give a wide berth to fans on their way to West Ham’s Upton Park ground. Whenever work meant an overnight stay in provincial cities like Leeds, Birmingham, Sheffield, etc I always checked the fixture list before setting off on an intercity train. There is no worse sight than a bunch of beery louts, fortified by booze and numbers when they encounter a black man. Thankfully, my experience has not been any worse than a few racist songs sang in my direction.
The English Premier League, with an eye on lucrative sponsorship deals and a global market to sell live action, have always tried to convince people that the problems of hooliganism and terrace racism are all behind us. Consigned to the unfashionable 80s with Billy Ocean records, Betamax videos, and the days when Nigerians didn’t need visas to come to the UK.
With the help of enhanced policing, stewards, CCTV cameras, seat numbering and other measures, Premier League grounds have minimised racist chanting. But the problem has not gone away. It just shifted to areas around the stadium, public transport on the way to the stadium, etc.
The fans with a propensity to cause mischief are also emboldened when abroad. This is usually down to the belief that it would be harder to trace them and their tendency to have little regard for foreigners. A few years ago an English fan wiped his behind with the Turkish flag in Istanbul. While another said to an immigration official checking his passport at Warsaw Airport “zlotl, zlotl, zlotl, what a rubbish language”.
Chelsea fans have a long history of racism that their band of glory hunters that hitched on the bandwagon when dodgy Russian money was injected into the club, are blissfully unaware of. In the 80s two black friends of mine were chased down Fulham Road after going to watch Manchester United against Chelsea. Chelsea’s first black player Paul Canoville was subjected to racist abuse by his club’s fans in the 80s. The “Head hunters” a bunch of notorious Chelsea hooligans had links with racist and fascist groups like the National Front. They were exposed by this excellent documentary by Donal MacIntyre.
But this is not all ancient history. Current captain John Terry was banned for calling Anton Ferdinand “a fucking black cunt”. Chelsea fans used to chant at Ferdinand “you know what you are”. Terry was also alleged to have called Tottenham’s Ledley King a “thick-lipped monkey”. The club always backed him to the hilt. A Chelsea fan, Stephen Fitzwater, was banned for life for racially abusing club legend Didier Drogba at an FA Cup semi in Wembley in 2012. Another was caught by TV cameras making a monkey gesture at Danny Welbeck.
So the Paris incident should not come as a surprise to anyone, even the black guy minding his business and trying to get on the train. He told Le Parisien newspaper: “I live with racism. I was not really surprised by what happened to me even if it was a first in the subway.”
The black guy is likely to be made a celebrity by the English media. The interest in his side of the story is overwhelming. The Chelsea fans will be prosecuted and if they are season ticket holders, be banned from going to games. The club is likely to pretend this was a case of a “few bad apples”. Supporters of other clubs are likely to imagine this is only a problem with Chelsea. The Premier League will hope millions of its fans across the world, and more importantly sponsors, will just concentrate on the fixtures next Saturday and this incident is swept under the carpet until the obnoxious side of the “beautiful game” rears its ugly head again.