SOME THINGS transcend the petty parochial squabbling of football rivalries. Whatever team you support and however passionately you express it, most people are still bound by the norms of society and remain on the same moral spectrum that guides their every day life.
Only the uber-zealots fail to see that fans on the other side of the segregation line are basically the same as them. Only the real hardcore idiots believe the opposition are dehumanised scum and that anything goes. Only the really ignorant dregs of humanity believe that being at a football match means you can set aside all decent civilised standards of behaviour and have free licence to indulge in the basest of offensive behaviour. You know, the kind of people who chant “You’re just a town full of peados” and think it is incredibly witty.
Last week we had a Kick Racism Out Of Football day to highlight the on-going battle against that particular form of ignorant barbarism. What some sections of the Newcastle support at the Riverside did on Sunday – and that Sunderland and Leeds fans have done in the past – was as crass, stupid, socially backward and morally bankrupt as throwing bananas and making monkey-noises at black players ever was. It is just about the most offensive thing you can think of and to make it a calculated set-piece within your repertoire plumbs new depths.
What kind of person thinks accusing people of the most horrific crimes against children imaginable passes as ‘just banter’? To smear a whole town like than is lower than the Munich chants and down there with Chelsea fans hissing and singing about Auschwitz at Spurs.
Many angry Boro fans have asked the Gazette over the years why the police take no action on this outrageously insulting behavior. Racist chanting in a football is a criminal offense and is dealt with vigourously, and rightly so. Derby games are heavily policed because of the potential for disorder and in recent years there have even been warnings that wearing smogsuits to the Riverside will be regarded as a provocation and be treated as a public order offence.
Yet here we have a clear, systematic breach of the 1986 Public Order Act going unpunished. Section four of the act says a person is guilty of an offence if, with intent to cause a person harassment, alarm or distress, he uses threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour. There is certainly intent to abuse and insult. The law is used to arrest demonstrators chanting empty political slogans at faceless corporations and states so I don’t see why it couldn’t be used to stop this grossly offensive chanting calculated to abuse and insult individuals.
A few arrests may sharpen their minds and make some reconsider their behaviour although many of the worst offenders would see it as Boro failing to have a sense of humour.
Ultimately though, as with racism, this will not be changed by prosecutions. They will just raise the stakes and may make the offenders even more bitter. These vile chants will only end when there is a seachange in the culture among Newcastle supporters.
The campaign against racism in football did not come from above, if anything the authorities were trying their best to ignore it and hoping it would go away. The campaign against racism stemmed from decent, articulate and socially responsible fans standing up to challenge the idiots within their own crowd, through agitation from the fanzine movement and from fan groups like the Football Supporters’ Association demanding that the clubs took action.
That is what is needed here. It is down to decent Newcastle fans to stand up and insist that this behaviour is unacceptable and like the racist chanting it must stop. The bulk of Newcastle fans are no different from any other football crowd. There will be decent, respectable, articulate Newcastle fans who will be mortified by this chanting and who will be thoroughly embarrassed at the way the idiots portray the club, the fans and their hometown.
They must act. Silence on this issue gives the green light to the mindless idiots to continue. The fanzines and message boards must condemn this publicly and start a debate within their own crowd and local media over what is acceptable banter and what is grossly offensive. It is down to fans to draw the line and police it themselves.
They should demand the club condemn it publicly too. Freddie Shepherd was sat there at the Riverside. He must have heard it. Surely he must have an opinion on the potential damage such moronic behaviour does to the brand.