Thursday, February 19, 2015

Mama, we're all racists now.

© The Guardian

So, ha-ha, very funny. No sooner had video appeared apparently showing Chelsea fans on a Paris Métro train singing about being racist while one appears to prevent a black commuter from boarding, the Photoshop wags were already at it.

Via memes depicting John Terry's face superimposed on the heads of those at Richelieu-Drouot, en route to Chelsea's Champions League encounter with PSG, social media suddenly become a braying mob every bit as crass as the song being sung and those who were singing it.

The logic that followed is that Chelsea Football Club is a racist club, captained by a racist, and supported by racists. Which makes me a racist, along with every single one of the near-42,000 people at Stamford Bridge each weekend, and the millions of others around the world who follow the club.

It also means that everyone on the staff at Chelsea is a racist, including Didier Drogba, Willian, Ramires, Kurt Zouma, Nathan Ake, Loic Remy and other black players, who are clearly so hateful of their racist captain that they train with him every day, run out for games with him, embrace him at the end of every match, go out to dinner with him, and generally tolerate his congenital racial intolerance 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and without a tweet or a comment to a foreign football magazine that they know will get back to the British press.

Don't get me wrong: if Terry used the words he is said to have used towards Anton Ferdinand, then the punishment and removal as England skipper was more than justified. But to see Terry made into a Mosley-esque lightning rod for the understandable disgust at this latest example of moronic football fans abroad is, at the very least, a fundamentally misplaced understanding of the notion of "banter" between fans.

I have no doubt that Chelsea - as every club, quite frankly - still has its neanderthal element. But the idiots on Tuesday night's Métro train were no more representative of the club they purport to support than the Aberdeen and Dundee fans arrested in January for fighting, the Brentford fans arrested last weekend in Watford, the Egyptian fans in Cairo two weeks ago, the Manchester United and Manchester City fans last November, the "barbaric" fans of Equatorial Guinea and Ghana who clashed the other week during the Africa Cup of Nations semi-final, or the Lincoln City thugs who attacked Luton Fans in a family pub two years ago and who are now doing 31 years in prison for their cause.

Of course, Chelsea as a club isn't blameless. All they can do is to try and identify the individuals captured in that video footage. Perhaps they'll get lucky: they were on a modern piece of Métro rolling stock, so perhaps the CCTV system will be good enough to match faces and open mouths during the vile singing to passport photos. It's unlikely, let's face it, that any of the pack of yobs would step forward and name names.

Because that is exactly what it was. This was no NF rally, no BDL march. These were the swollen egos of people who, with the safety of numbers, behaved as they want. Ironically, after PSG fans celebrated their Ligue 1 title two years ago, they came marauding down my street from Trocadéro, smashing shop windows, tipping over cars and looting supermarkets. Mob rules, right?

It doesn't take a doctorate in social studies to see that the pack mentality on that train was hewn from the same lump that sends drunken Brits out on to the streets of their own towns at the weekend and, even worse, out onto the streets of Aya Napa and Magaluf from May to September. I'm sure the core of that cretinous group on the Métro were racist, but I'm also sure they were accompanied by cowards who joined in because they could get away with doing so.

Chelsea has done much, as every club in fact, to transform the fan experience. Compared with my first taste of Stamford Bridge in the early 1980s, when fights broke out all around you as you stood in The Shed amid some turgid Second Division fixture, the Bridge today is - as away fans like to point out - oh-so-quiet.

Compared with the debut of Paul Canovile, which was disgracefully accompanied by bananas and monkey chants from his own club's support (sadly, I was there to witness this), Chelsea's multinational squad today enjoys the respect and dignity their professionalism and skills deserve. Does that mean that Drogba doesn't face racially-themed barbs? No, any more so than Jose Mourinho doesn't get the odd reference to his "swarthy good looks", a description as intentionally racist as it is cute.

While we can hope that police endeavour will bring those Métro idiots to account, the image they projected around the world of Chelsea and English football will, unfortunately, have done its damage, much the same as the institutional racism we've seen at matches in Spain, Poland, Russia, Serbia, the Netherlands and even Germany, the last place where such behaviour should be tolerated.

All of which will revive the arguments about whether racism and football hooliganism is football's problem or society's problem.  I will always argue that if it is football's problem, it's society's problem also.

As an expat for the last 16 years, it's been hard enough trying to convince those I integrate with that we Brits don't all wear frock coats and religiously drink tea at four o'clock, or that our lives are not a hilarious cross between Benny Hill and Mr. Bean. And, no, life in the UK is not a vomit-strewn tirade of drunken violence.

But I digress. If nothing else, Tuesday night's circumstantial evidence informs us that racism is still football's problem, just as an alcoholic is still an alcoholic long after giving up drink. It's not just Chelsea's, but also the problem of all those clubs whose fans piously claim are racism-free. Because dig a little under the surface, and you'll find racism running through society like smouldering rivers of magma. It's the undercurrent that has UKIP's gormless leader blaming Welsh immigration for the M4 being slow, or all the other nasty little right-wing movements stoking things up in Europe. Football is merely the outlet.