Tuesday, 22 January 2008

Sit Down, Shut Up

The issue of crowd abuse at football has been brought to the fore once again this season. The likes of Sir Alex Ferguson*, Sol Campbell and Harry Redknapp have all expressed their unhappiness about various terrace chants and verbals they've received from paying fans.

*It is quite hilarious that Sir Alex might was at risk of being put in the dock after allegedly giving abuse to fans this week.

There has been a huge and largely successful campaign to eradicate racism from the stands but other forms of verbal abuse are still prevalent. Terrace 'Banter' takes many forms. Ranging from the hilarious to the hateful.

Fans have an almost irrational loyalty to their clubs and players and in instances such as with Sol Campbell and Ashley Cole - where they feel as though they have been betrayed - the abuse they give is not necessarily acceptable, but certainly understandable. Campbell's defection from Tottenham to Arsenal would have harboured ill-feeling at the best of times. The fact he was Spurs' club captain AND went for no transfer fee made things all the worse. Effigies were burnt at White Hart Lane and even now Campbell is at Portsmouth he still gets the bird from the Tottenham faithful.

As for Cole, his lies, greed and treachery have made him a subject of abuse not just from the Arsenal fans he claimed to grow up with but fans of the game in general. His pathetic tantrum about being offered ONLY 55 grand a week showed just how much of an overpaid primadonna he had become and he detached from reality he, and many of his colleagues are. Cole has since earned the unflattering nicknames of 'Cashley' and 'Chelsea Rent Boy' among others.

Like I said, not acceptable, but understandable.

However, surely a line must be drawn when it comes to the issue of death.

Today saw Manchester City request that the planned minute's silence to remember those who died in the Munich tragedy in the forthcoming Manchester derby be scraped and replaced by a minutes applause. This is because it is feared that some of the City fanbase might not be sympathetic to their rivals.

Things like the Munich air disaster should not be subjects for banter. Whatever you feel about Manchester United as a football club, it should never be right to make fun of people who died so tragically.

Manchester United have declined City's request.

You'd like to think they are right to do so and the right respect will be paid on what is indeed a solemn event.

Sadly, we all know that there is every chance that this will not be the case. This act of defiance by the reds will probably just spur on those looking to ruin the occasion.

Most football fans already know a famous chant sung at Liverpool, Leeds and City regarding the air crash and it's difficult to anticipate this will be any different just because this happens to be an anniversary. While I would never go so far as to say this behaviour is in any way shape or form acceptable, we have to remember this kind of thing intensifies football rivalries. And sad as it is to admit, football would be nowhere without these bitter rivalries.

Many football fans have moved to argue that once they pay their money for their over-priced tickets that they should be able to express themselves however they see fit. Football is an emotional game and can cause even the most reserved individual to start f'ing and blinding like a tourrets sufferer on cocaine.

I cannot say how many times I've been ashamed of what has passed my lips while watching the game.

That said, there is a distinction that needs to be made. Terrace abuse and banter are one thing. The actions of the aforementioned Sol Campbell and Ashley Cole have contributed to their own downfall. When making their decisions there is no way they did not anticipate the inevitable backlash so they have little reason to complain.

But as we have moved to combat racism and sectarianism, it would be fair to say that mocking death - the ultimate taboo - should receive the same treatment. No-one asked for the likes of Hillsbrough or Munich. These were unfortunate events where innocent people lost their lives. They need to be commemorated accordingly regardless of who you support.

Bill Shankley was wrong.

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