Tribalism on the terraces

In the second part of his series on racism in football, Rich Ward turns to the fans.

In ‘Leading figures setting a terrible example’, I discussed the issue of how Sepp Blatter and others are failing to show fans the (correct) way when it comes to racism.

What I didn’t cover in the article was the underlying issues on the terraces that are also hindering the path to racism-free football.

Recent allegations involving Chelsea fans chanting racist songs on the way back from Norwich further illustrates how some seem to have been inspired by the actions of players, managers and football chiefs.

In the past few months, racism has somehow become acceptable again and now seems to be rearing its ugly head on a weekly basis.

One of the fundamental problems is that football is such a tribal sport. So often down the years, fervent devotion to one team has spilt over into incidents of abuse.

Gary Neville was a favourite target for Liverpool fans, United fans will forever hate Carlos Tevez for crossing the Manchester divide and Sol Campbell experienced the same problems when he swapped Tottenham for Arsenal.

Fans work themselves into such frenzy that they even turn on their own.

This season, Blackburn supporters have repeatedly laid into manager Steve Kean and who can forget the hanging of a David Beckham effigy after his infamous World Cup red card while playing for England.

Most recently, in Saturday’s FA Cup game between Manchester United and Liverpool, Patrice Evra was abused and heckled throughout the match as the Suarez row took centre stage once again.

The Liverpool fans continue to condone Suarez’s behaviour just like his manager has done and ITV did not attempt to diffuse the situation either by insisting on showing the Uruguayan’s reaction in the stands to every on-field incident.

“Banter”, as Kenny Dalglish put it, was exchanged between the two sets of supporters, with United fans chanting “racist b******” in response to boos from the Kop.

The effect of this tribalism is that it prohibits fans from showing any common sense or rationality.

Players are jeered when wearing the colours of their clubs, yet cheered when sporting England white. Players who transfer teams are revered one week, hated the next and vice versa.

So it is perhaps not surprising then, that if the colour of shirt a player is wearing, or the area of the country he comes from makes him a target, that the colour of his skin can too lead to incidents of vile abuse.

It may be a cliché, but if fans and managers alike could remember the old adage “it’s only a game”, they might be less inclined to allow their passion to turn into blind abuse.

Such a change in attitude might then prevent a repeat of the scenes at Anfield on Saturday where a player who was the victim of racism was booed because he was wearing a United jersey and not a Liverpool one.


Find Rich on Twitter @richjward


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