Although it’s been a long time since either club could claim to be amongst the biggest in the country, the rivalry between Nottingham Forest and Derby County has never faded. They still hate each other, and games between the two are always lively and the fans are always up for it. As with any rivalry, supporters from both sides have been known to sing and chant songs designed purely to wind up their opposing numbers, but on Tuesday night, Derby fans seemed to take this too far.
They chanted ‘Where’s your chairman gone?’ and ‘You’re going down with your chairman’, in reference to Nigel Doughty, the late Forest owner who died in February. Forest fans were unsurprisingly angered by the chants, and Derby issued an apology the next day. I learned about this story when I read that Forest striker Dexter Blackstock had tweeted his disgust at the chants, and I was surprised to see some people saying ‘That’s football’ on forums I use. The same thing was said by some people in an effort to defend John Terry’s alleged racial abuse of Anton Ferdinand, the suggestion being that anything that happens on the pitch or in the ground during the 90 minutes of a football game is fine, because football apparently lives in an alternate reality where anything goes.
It’s a strange mentality, and one that is unique to football. I can’t claim that I’ve never sworn at a referee or player, or joined in with songs that would offend the opposing fans, but there surely has to be a line that shouldn’t be crossed?
Football matches have a unique atmosphere in sports. Fans can get creative when it comes to singing the praises of their team, manager or players, and there are a lot of clever and funny songs that do so. But there’s an ugly side to chanting too. When Manchester United travelled to Elland Road to face Leeds in the Carling Cup last September, Leeds fans chanted about the Munich disaster, while Man Utd fans chanted about Turkey, in reference to 2 Leeds fans murdered when Leeds travelled to Turkey for a Champions League tie. Fans of various clubs have been chanting ‘We know what you are’ at players this season, most notably John Terry and Anton Ferdinand, and Patrice Evra and Luis Suarez, following allegations of racist remarks by Terry and Suarez aimed at Ferdinand and Evra.
The question is, why do some fans have an ‘anything goes’ attitude towards chants and songs at football matches? The passion involved in watching your team play can lead to fans shouting things without thinking, but one off remarks are very different from regular chants or songs. A lot of thought goes into these songs, and if they are offensive, it is because they are designed to be. How did it become a part of the game though? When did singing move away from being something used to support your team and spurring them on to victory, to being something to wind up opponents or opposing fans?
In recent years, fans have become more willing to report people who are making points a little too aggressively. But it is supporters groups that come up with the more elaborate chants, and the question becomes, ‘How do you persuade them to stop?’ Although chants may be offensive, it’s often not the case that they are breaking any laws. While it could be argued that Chelsea fans singing ‘Anton Ferdinand, we know what you are’ is a derogatory reference to the colour of his skin, it is difficult to prove it.
The truth is that it may be up to supporters groups to govern themselves, and to move away from offensive chanting towards singing in support of their teams. Some people will argue that such a move would hurt the atmosphere generated at games, but supporting your team should mean just that. Purely singing in support of your own team would make football matches more attractive to families, and ensure that parents bring their children at a young age to encourage their support.
I know this is a plea that may fall on deaf ears, but there are some topics that should be off limits at football matches, and people that push those limits hurt the reputation of their clubs.
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