Within hours of the news breaking about the shameful attack on Middlesbrough supporters in Rome by Roma fans, Sports Minister, Richard “it happens in the playground on Monday” Caborn was being interviewed by Sky Sports News. His disgust at the Italian hooligan’s attack on ordinary English supporters was palpable and he promised to make the strongest protest possible to his Italian counterpart. He said “English supporters should be free to follow their teams in Europe without fear of attack in the name of football. I’m appalled and will be contacting Steve Gibson personally to express my concern and I’d be happy to meet the families of those involved”.
Except the Right Honourable Richard Caborn didn’t say the above at all. His silence on the subject was deafening, but we can console ourselves with the thought that perhaps he was too busy ensuring that English supporters don’t goose step their way round Germany in the summer, while whistling Dam Busters or celebrating the fact that Hitler only had one testicle.
Mr Caborn’s Department, that of Culture, Media and Sport are just as reticent to speak out against homophobic, misogynist and violent lyrics in music and the early sexualisation of teenagers due in part to constant exposure to sex via teenage magazines, the media and music. Pete Doherty can get arrested every other day, the Gallagher brothers can swagger around, beer in hand, behaving as if they were more in need of an ASBO than an invite to Downing Street, and there are all too frequent killings and outbreaks of violence when rap bands are in town, yet the second Wayne Rooney earns the mildest of rebukes for his on pitch behaviour, the media, and often Mr Caborn himself, are up in arms that the morals of the nations youth are danger of corruption and how Rooney has a “duty” to behave as a model sportsman and person.
The insistence that footballers should be role models, not for their early sacrifices, dedication and hard work that earns them their place in our national game but as to how they live their off pitch lives is just one of the many changing attitudes that have crept into the game over the past few years. New Labours patronising insistence that every aspect of our leisure time should be “accessible” to all regardless of race, colour, creed, disability and gender, surely plays it’s part in the ever increasing drive to sanitise our game so as nobody is “offended”, that there is not even the most miniscule risk to our health and safety – real or perceived - and that we all go home feeling that the “match day experience” was easily worth the (often excessive) ticket price. But at what price to the longer term supporter? The game should be and is welcoming to all already without constant attempts at social engineering at the expense of the traditional fan who forms the backbone of any club’s support, the very fan who, through successive generations, has been their clubs lifeblood through good times and bad since the day the club was formed.
Adverts for the game on Sky present nothing less than happy smiley faces, often painted, children in jesters hats and clean cut young people celebrating the goals; they’ll also show orchestrated attempts to involve supporters in creating an atmosphere; half time entertainment used to comprise not much more than an occasional marching band and peanut sellers showing off their throwing skills but now we have dancers, singers, jugglers or local school children butchering our club song to keep us ‘amused’ for 15 minutes. It wasn’t that long ago that the only noise prior to kick off was that of the crowd singing songs and exchanging banter. Now, being in a football stadium is akin to being in a nightclub with eardrums being assaulted with what my boyfriend describes as “mind numbing techno bollocks”. And as for the bursts of music that we hear more and more after a goal is scored, well, so younger readers aren’t corrupted by a string of obscenities on that particular subject I’ll leave you to decide what I think about this recent innovation!
Is there, though, more to this music than meets the eye? Take your reaction after a goal is scored.. dependent on the importance of the goal the adrenaline that flows afterwards can leave you with a unique feeling of jubilation and satisfaction not only that you’ve scored but that you’ve potentially deprived your opposition of three points. This feeling can often manifest itself by taunting the opposition fans, often with a chant of “who are yer, who are yer” or “one nil to the so and so’s” and as such chants are sung in tribal fashion they can come across as aggressive. When you’ve got Tom Hark or some other cheery ditty blasting out the second the ball hits the back of the net, this type of music can have a negating effect on any aggression a goal may provoke. Similar with the music pre game which I suspect is played more to temper the mood of the masses than for any other purpose – it also has a great effect of drowning out any attempts by supporters trying to create their own atmosphere. Of course, while there is nothing that anybody can do to stop supporters singing during the game the attempts to create a wholesome atmosphere are perhaps working as rarely and sadly do you hear a stadium alive for 90 minutes.
My enjoyment and passion for the beautiful game is twofold. I love watching my team play (well, mostly!) but just as much I love to have the opportunity for 90 minutes a week to leave my ordinary self at the turnstiles and morph into a loud, sometimes aggressive, football supporter. For me it is theatre, pantomime, and sometimes a bloody good laugh, a great 90 minutes to rid myself of a weeks worth of tension and stress; I wouldn’t dream of berating a colleague who makes a mistake by shouting at them “you don’t know what you’re doing” anymore than I’d taunt a stranger in Tesco with a Geordie accent by telling them that they “were from a small town in Scotland” but I can during a game of football and accept that I’m also going to be on the receiving end of songs designed to wind me up from the opposition fans. It does not mean that I’m going to invade the pitch or hurl my lipstick at an official or player who walks past me holding up three fingers to remind me of the score as LuaLua did yesterday (the cheeky bastard).
Those in charge of us at the game obviously have different ideas though. More often than not it appears as if there are more police than supporters; we’re not greeted at the turnstile by a friendly steward but a large burly nightclub bouncer type whose presence can be intimidating. I’ve been relieved of bottle tops in case I turn a bottle of water into a missile (but I can take in a carton of Ribena, frozen if I wanted to be nasty and get served with a hot drink with a lid inside the ground) and had my handbag searched, perhaps they thought I may be taking a handgun into the ground to shoot the ref after he makes a decision against us. Once inside the ground, the boys and girls in orange take over.. the second the mood changes a fraction above passive, they are on their feet with their arms outstretched, Jesus like, looking anxiously about them in case we’re about to partake in an en masse pitch invasion or chuck a barrage of coins in the direction of a hard up player (are there any?!). Sometimes the bouncer style stewards will also be on hand to ensure we’re behaving like angels, ironically often provoking unrest with their aggressive stance. Through personal experience and by watching nearly every game of football on television whenever a controversial incident takes place, I look at the crowd reaction. While many are seen reacting with gestures and some ripe language, their fury being obvious, it is extremely rare that supporters move from in front of their seats, even if they are within touching distance of players and officials. I’d say that on the whole us supporters are capable of controlling ourselves, however irate we are and yet we’re policed and stewarded as if on perpetual brink of a riot. Of course and rarely somebody lets the side down but their actions are invariably condemned by fellow supporters on message boards.
The grossly insulting stereotype that the average football supporter is some racist, gay hating, knuckle dragging, Stella drinking, wife bashing violent Neanderthal – as well as being very unfashionably white and working class – is obviously alive and kicking among New Labour’s many quangos and focus groups who appear to be convinced we need educating in all manner of areas and dictated to how we should and shouldn’t behave by the people in orange. Can you think of any other minority in society thus targeted? It would be naïve to say that there is no racism in football but thankfully it is increasingly rare and when it is heard it is rightfully condemned. If people are racists and/or homophobic it is not because they are football supporters. The two are entirely exclusive of each other. So called homophobic chanting is designed to do nothing more than wind up some hapless player, I doubt very much if those who so eloquently ask a footballer “if he takes it up the arse” are going to leave the ground and immediately go out queer bashing. And as for the recent campaign against domestic violence with adverts in programmes and posters around the ground, do you think those attending the opera or Twickenham were also subjected to the basic assumption that because of their chosen leisure activity or sport they are also potential or actual wife bashers or kitten strangler? I very much doubt it…
And now to standing, the controversial and emotive subject that effects so many supporters, those who want to stand and those that are, in effect, forced to by the person in front standing. We all know that concerted efforts are being made this season to ensure we’re all sitting comfortably. Indeed, I cannot help but think that if the police put as much effort into fighting crime as the authorities put in to making us sit then we’d all be able to leave our front doors unlocked.
Having read the above, ask yourself if the ever draconian enforcement and the absolute refusal to deal with the fact that some supporters do want to stand is less about health, safety and security and more about attempting to control us in the belief that if we are all sitting, stadiums will miraculously transform themselves into the social utopia it is clear the Government and footballing authorities think they should be. After all, get rid of us nasty standers and the game becomes the wholesome family affair Sky would make you think it is, doesn’t it?
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