This isn’t anti-racism – it’s the policing of passion

The campaign to excise offensive language from football games is a class war masquerading as an anti-racist initiative.

Brendan O'Neill

Brendan O'Neill
chief political writer

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Topics Politics

Is racism rife in British football? Reading the papers, you could be forgiven for thinking so. Yes, 30 per cent of British professional footballers may be black, this may be one of the few arenas in which a working-class black Brit can make a fortune for himself, and the sight of fans throwing bananas at black players may mercifully be a distant memory. Yet, according to reports, racism remains a massive problem in football. In recent weeks, following allegedly racial incidents involving Luis Suarez of Liverpool and John Terry of Chelsea, the commentariat, public officials and the suits of the Football Association have joined forces to try finally to ‘eradicate racism from the game’.

Don’t be fooled by the high-falutin’ morals of this drive against the alleged scourge of pitch-based racism. This isn’t anti-racism – it’s the policing of passion. It might package itself as an anti-racist initiative, designed to bring about an era of racial equality, but in truth it’s a class war against the beastly blokes and uncouth urchins who are seen to make up English football’s player-base and fanbase. The true driving force behind this aloof campaign to ‘clean up’ football is the elites’ utter incomprehension of the mass passions that get aired at football matches, which they stupidly mistake for ‘racism’ or ‘hatred’.

In recent weeks, relatively minor incidents on the pitch and in the terraces have been blown out of proportion by snobbish football-watchers, giving an impression of racial hatred running rampant in English football. In December, Luis Suarez, Liverpool’s Uruguayan forward, was found guilty by the FA of using racist language against Manchester United fullback Patrice Evra at a match in October. Keen to demonstrate its implacable opposition to racism, the FA produced a 100-page report on the incident and banned Saurez for eight games. Any Liverpool player or fan who has dared to demonstrate support for Suarez – by wearing a shirt with his name emblazoned on it or calling for an appeal against his ban – has been written off as a scummy accomplice to racial hatred. Liverpool management has been accused by one anti-racist official of ‘whipping’ up ‘tribal fervour’ amongst its fans on the Saurez issue.

Chelsea and England captain John Terry stands accused of committing a ‘racially aggravated public order offence’ at a match in October, where he’s alleged to have called QPR defender Anton Ferdinand a ‘fucking black cunt’. Terry strenuously denies the allegations. Meanwhile, Sepp Blatter, president of FIFA, caused paroxysms of fury amongst the chattering classes in October when he suggested that racism on the pitch is on the wane and that when it does occur it can usually be resolved with a handshake between the two clashing players. And last Friday, at an FA Cup tie, a section of Liverpool fans allegedly called Oldham defender Tom Aeyemi a ‘black bastard’. One of the fans has been arrested. It is proof, said yesterday’s Sun, that Blatter was wrong, and ‘despite efforts to fight racism it has still not been eradicated from football’.

The problem with this hysterical obsession with ‘racist incidents’ at football games is not only that very rare uses of offensive language are used to demonise a mass sport that has millions of participants who would never dream of using racist language. More fundamentally, there’s the fact that these incidents and alleged incidents are not racism at all, in the true meaning of the word. To the cliquish commentators, quango officials and Nu Football types in Ben Sherman shirts (from Debenhams) who peer into football stadia from outside, it might look as if the average game is a hotbed of hatred and abuse and even racial or homophobic slurs. But that’s because they understand little, possibly nothing, about the undiluted passion that can be exhibited by a throng of football fans. Hailing from those arid, passionless planets of professional politicking or PR, where strict linguistic etiquette is the order of the day and fury is looked upon as a potential mental disorder, these outsiders look at hollering footie fans in the same way wives of Victorian colonialists once gawped at scantily clad Africans dancing around naked flames.

The fact is that at a big football match, where rivalries are stoked and your team has its neck on the line, people act and speak in a way they wouldn’t around the dinner table, say, or at work. They sing obscene songs, shout abuse at opposing fans, muse loudly upon the sexual preferences of Chelsea players, and yell things about Posh Spice’s anus. This is not normal behaviour. But that’s because a football ground during a game is not a normal, everyday place – it is a zone outside of normality, away from the humdrum of daily existence, where one can unleash one’s id and ignite one’s passions. Put on edge by a tense game, wound up by opposing fans, determined to cheer to victory a team that your family might have supported for generations, it’s perfectly understandable that fans get het up, shouting down players they don’t like and trying to put off players they fear. Does that make them hateful, racist if they say the word ‘black’ or homophobic if they say ‘takes it up the arse’? No. They wouldn’t say that kind of thing in the office or the pub, because the vast majority of fans don’t actually hate black people or gay people. It’s just that at a football match, with passion at play, anything and everything can be used as a battering ram against your implacable opponents.

The fantastic inability of the cut-off elites to understand this fact, their laugh-out-loud belief that what a football fan says in the heat of the moment in the Emirates stadium is a perfect snapshot of his entire ideological outlook, is a result of both their aloofness from ordinary people and their lack of familiarity with passion, at least of the working-class crowd variety. Ours is an era in which politics is an increasingly shrink-wrapped, anodyne, etiquette-obsessed arena, where watching your words and curbing your emotions are not only expected, but demanded. Schooled in PC, drained of controversial thought, thoroughly prepped by their parents or their peers for a life of dutiful PR work or broadsheet media stardom, it is not surprising that the kind of people who staff public bodies, equality quangos and the comment desks of newspapers find mass football passion a totally alien thing and that they can refer to fans who shout offensive slogans as ‘knuckle-dragging cretins’.

Behind the campaign to ‘eradicate racism’ from football, there lurks a pretty poisonous desire to police the weird emotions of these knuckle-draggers once known as the working classes, an attempt to subordinate passion to PC. If these snobs dolled up as anti-racists get their way, professional football might soon be drained of the very thing that makes it brilliant – people’s investment of passion and fury into their teams. Do we really want a situation where English football is turned into a totally respectable TV extravaganza, like American football, or where fans have been so lobotomised by the PC elite that they only clap or demur politely, as if football were dressage? If not, I suggest we set about the urgent task of kicking these ‘anti-racists’ out of football.

Brendan O’Neill is editor of spiked. Visit his personal website here.

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.

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