Kick Jesus Christ Out of Football!

It's a progressive sign when predominantly white football fans boo off God-bothering rappers not because they are black but because they are crap.

Duleep Allirajah

Topics Politics

What did I do for the Kick Racism Out of Football day of action at Selhurst Park this week? Why, I hurled abuse at black people, of course.

Now, before the diversity cops start beating a path to my front door, let me explain. The booing in question was directed at the half-time entertainment, a group of black ‘yoof’ who gangsta-limped on to the pitch and started rapping about Jesus. I kid you not. It was toe-curlingly awful. I had little option but to join in the chorus of jeering that swept round the stadium.

Booing the half-time entertainment is becoming de rigeur at Selhurst this season. Two weeks ago, we booed off a Freddie Mercury tribute act. As one poster on the bulletin board said: ‘I’m actually getting into the spirit of booing the half-time acts and chanting “OFF! OFF!” Makes half-time more interesting.’ (1)

Not only was it entertaining but, as we were booing off the Jesus rappers, it struck me that it was an incredibly progressive thing that a crowd of predominantly white football fans could now abuse black people without any racial connotation. The general consensus on the bulletin board was that the rappers were booed off because they were crap not because they were black. As one supporter put it, ‘In the spirit of the “Kick Racism Out of Football” campaign I am pleased to see that we treat all our singing guests with absolute equality, and boo the useless fucking lot of them.’ In a rather less tolerant tone, another quipped: ‘I’d rather keep racism in football, if listening to that shower of shite is the alternative.’

The fact that the performers were God-botherers didn’t help matters either. ‘I don’t go to Palace to be preached to, I go to watch sub-standard football’, insisted an irate supporter. ‘How dare they push Jesus to people in such a secular environment.’ ‘Kick Jesus out of football’ seems to be the message from the terraces. ‘If I want religion I’ll go to church, that was truly dreadful and out of place’, fumed another fan. Some supporters were confused about the message. ‘One of my friends said their songs were about Jesus’, said one bewildered supporter. ‘But some of you are saying it was part of the kick out racism campaign. So which was it? Or was the message “kick out racism and embrace Jesus instead”? If so, that’s a lot for someone to take on board.’ Very true.

Monday night’s incident has sparked a wider debate amongst Palace fans about the quality of half-time entertainment. ‘I thought that the Freddie Mercury tribute was rock bottom’, said one disgruntled supporter. ‘But tonight’s was the worst effort I think I have ever seen at a football club for half-time entertainment.’ The Jesus rappers were certainly dismal, but are we in danger of adopting a ‘half-time ain’t what it used to be’ romanticism? Some older fans have been quick to debunk that sepia-tinted myth of a half-time golden age. ‘During half-time at a Falmouth Town v St Ives match I went to in the 1980s, the entertainment consisted of eleven pirates fighting over an inflatable haddock for five minutes’, recounted one veteran. Others fondly recalled the days when fans made their own entertainment. One supporter said: ‘In my day, there wasn’t any half-time entertainment. You could stand around and talk to people. They should bring back this tradition.’ ‘The only half-time entertainment I ever had was when I bet my mate a fiver that I could touch all the floodlight pylons in the ground before the teams came back out. And I managed it.’

Half-time breaks, it is true, used to be fairly spartan affairs. Most fans spent the break in the crush for the toilets or queuing up for a meat pie while the groundsman would potter around replacing divots and the PA announcer would read out a few birthday dedications. And that was about it. On special occasions, like a big cup-tie, you might get a brass band or a police dog display but they were rare treats. These days, the Selhurst park pitch is a veritable whirl of human activity during the half-time interval. There are mascots, ground staff, substitutes warming up, dancing cheerleaders, academy players receiving awards, veteran players waving to the crowd, and fans taking part in the Wickes ‘half-time challenge’.

The half-time challenge at Selhurst Park is a truly wretched affair. Entitled a ‘Game of Two Baths’, it consists of two fans trying to kick footballs into a couple of baths. Last season’s challenge, ‘On me shed son’, involved fans trying to chip balls into a shed. The winner stands to win a new bathroom. These events are not entertaining in the conventional sense of the word. In fact, excuse the pun, they’re complete toilet, and, from a branding perspective, I’m not sure they do the reputation of a DIY giant like Wickes any favours either. But perhaps I’m expecting too much. As one fan pointed out, less than nostalgic for the regime of our recently departed manager: ‘The various Wickes challenges were the highlight of any Peter Taylor game.’

Cheerleaders are not a new phenomenon at Palace home games. In the 1970s, we had the Palace Dollies who sported short pleated skirts and knickers embroidered with the slogan ‘Up the Palace’. The current outfit, a group of teenage girls called the Palace Crystal Cheerleaders, have been performing at Selhurst Park for 12 years. During the home game against Stoke two weeks ago, we were treated to a taste of proper US razzmatazz when the Miami Dolphins cheerleaders, in town for the much-hyped NFL game at Wembley, performed at half-time. In contrast to Palace’s prepubescent cheerleaders, the Miami Dolphins girls were tall, bronzed, with big hair, skimpy outfits and slick, sexy dance routines. They certainly made an impression. ‘The cheerleaders from last week were probably the best entertainment I’ve ever seen at Palace for half-time’, exclaimed one breathless supporter. ‘Just wish we could have cheerleaders over the age of 16 so one doesn’t feel like a perv for watching them!’ said another.

Some fans, however, fear that the advent of half-time entertainment represents an unwelcome Disneyfication of the match-day experience. ‘In general there is far too much “fluff” around football’, complained one traditionalist. ‘A decent football experience doesn’t need music, fireworks, cheerleaders, crappy entertainers. It needs the football and well-run food, drink and merchandise outlets.’ However, while cheerleaders and mascots are American imports, there is still something reassuringly shambolic and amateurish about the way we do it. We’re still a long way from the US-style ‘sportertainment’ in which vocal, passionate fans are reduced to passive consumers. As I’ve documented in this column, there’s a new subversive tradition of mascot punch-ups and off-message PA announcers taunting the opposition. And now we have half-time entertainers getting booed off. It’s a heartening sign that the old unruly terrace spirit has not been completely extinguished.

Duleep Allirajah is spiked’s sports columnist.

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