Judged by association…

You think you know someone … and then …

As a Chelsea supporter of forty-four years and counting, the past week has been pretty horrid. The racist chants filmed on the Paris Métro are are disgusting, and the majority of decent supporters have sought to disassociate themselves with these vile people spewing out their vitriolic abuse. But I have been disturbed and upset on another level, too.

An old friend – let’s just say we go back a number of years – tagged me in a post on social media, asking me ‘what I thought about’ a photo. The (photoshopped) picture in question was a shot of the alleged perpetrators of the racial abuse. Their faces had been replaced with the face of  Chelsea captain, John Terry. The ‘connection’ being a report that the alleged perpetrators claimed that their racist song was a reference to John Terry, who was cleared in a court of law of racial abuse of a black player on the opposing team, Queens Park Rangers, in a premier league fixture in 2012.

John Terry case: racist abuse or sarcastic banter? Magistrate says it is impossible to be sure what Chelsea captain said, and it may not have been intended as insultAt the end of a four-day trial, the chief magistrate, Howard Riddle, cleared the 31-year-old Chelsea captain of a racially aggravated public order offence.

Whilst I adhere to the view that what John Terry was alleged to have said was wholly wrong, he was, nevertheless, cleared in a court of law. I was at the game that day, very close to the action. I saw how, Anton Ferdinand, the QPR player, was winding him up, giving him abuse about an alleged affair. If John Terry used racist language in retaliation, then I don’t condone or excuse it, and never would. But why is it a ‘good idea’ or even ‘funny’ or ‘clever’ to hype up the furore over this despicable incident on the metro by mocking up John Terry’s face onto the bodies of the people on the train?

Racism is a problem which permeates all of society

It is wrong because some of the tabloid press will be relishing the latest opportunity to lay the blame for racism onto football. It’s convenient. Whereas, in truth, racism is a problem which permeates all layers and areas of society, not just football. Racism can be overt, as in the case of the chanting morons on the Métro, or covert, and institutionalised. Given that the sender of the photo openly declares her strong dislike of football, and certainly hasn’t any in-depth knowledge of the game, I still don’t know, on reflection, if she realised that the photo had been photoshopped. I’m not sure if she knows the facts of the original incident involving John Terry, or whether she just caught sight of a headline at the time, in a tabloid newspaper, on her way to work. After my initial shocked reaction to the Facebook tag, she responded, “But don’t don’t you recognise John Terry?” I never thought to challenge it as I didn’t think someone of her intelligence could be that naive. But then again …

I’m not unrealistic about football nor its image. I am constantly airing my views on what I believe are the ills of the modern game. I hate the wage-structure, the kick-off times dictated by pay-TV. I hate the over-priced tickets – putting the live match experience out of the reach of many families. I hate the over-the-top punditry – on TV and in the press – which frequently becomes a partisan trial by media of players, managers, and clubs.

Misogyny, homophobia, racism -v- passion, laughter, camaraderie

I hate the misogyny that I experience regularly on match days (and in football chat groups on social media). I hate the homophobia that I hear. And I hate the racism. But I love supporting my club. I love the passion and the laughter and the tears. I love the camaraderie amongst my fellow-supporters. I love the many friends I have made over the years, and the way in which we have watched one another’s children grow up. And I love that nowadays I feel safe travelling alone to matches without encountering the violence which was a regular feature when I was a young supporter in the 1970s.

I refuse to let dreadful incidents like the one in Paris stop me from supporting my beloved Chelsea; I won’t allow a racist minority to define my club; nor will I let the closed-minded carry on thinking that they can stereotype me by association. The old friend in question has ‘unfriended’ me. Seemingly, she couldn’t accept or understand why I was so angry and upset about the tag – the implication that by supporting my club I was condoning the loutish behaviour of racists.

Had she simply asked me what I thought about the events of Tuesday 17th April, I would have pointed to the huge achievements in making racism unacceptable – in football, as in society as a whole – and the work still to do. (See  Marina Hyde: Racist fans are everyone’s problem – not just football’s) However, because my old friend used this photo in a loaded way (“But don’t you think it’s awful/don’t you blame it all on John Terry in the first place/how can you follow your club when this sort of thing is going on?”) I had to raise my objections. Maybe she should have had a career in tabloid journalism instead of in academia.

© Carol Ann Wood
February 2015

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