If last year’s Premier League campaign will be remembered for its thrilling finale, the current season is in danger of being overshadowed by a series of scandals that are threatening the reputation of the English game.
Whether the offender be John Terry, Luis Suarez or the fans who sing their names, the seriousness of the situation is becoming abundantly clear.
The anti-Semitic chanting by a section of West Ham supporters in Sunday’s clash with Spurs at White Hart Lane was the latest incident to make the headlines. While the police have moved to investigate some of those involved on Sunday, as well as Chelsea and Millwall fans earlier this season, are we any closer to finding a solution to the issue of racism in the Premier League?
Antony Randle is a regular contributor to the West Ham fanzine ‘Over Land and Sea’ (OLAS) and attended his first match at Upton Park in 1975:
“I can vividly recall the first (and to date only) time I heard the sort of chanting which apparently took place on Sunday. It was a game against Spurs in the early 80s at Upton Park when I used to stand on the North Bank.
“I suddenly became aware of this ‘ssssss’ hissing noise followed by a chant of ‘Gas the Jews.’
“I couldn’t believe it at first. I’m not easily shocked by what I’ve heard at Upton Park over the years, which is far milder than it used to be, but that really did stop me in my tracks, more so than the occasional monkey noises which used to be aired occasionally in those days, though even then they were pretty rare and confined to individuals rather than groups.”
Despite the similar chants at White Hart Lane on Sunday, Mr Randle is adamant that even in games against Spurs, racially abusive chanting is still uncommon:
“Upton Park isn’t the ‘bearpit’ it used to be. It was a much more hostile place in the 70’s and 80’s where you would see occasional confrontations on the South Bank between home fans and the opposition, but even those were relatively rare.
“It’s a much less febrile atmosphere today where apart from the Millwall incident two or three years ago I haven’t seen or been around any crowd trouble for a couple of decades at least.”
But the anti-Semitic chanting on the weekend exemplifies the problems the authorities have in stamping it out. Clearly those who would sing about the holocaust are beyond education. Despite their team being part owned By David Gold, represented by Yossi Benayoun, and managed previously by Avram Grant, all of whom are Jewish, some people cannot be taught tolerance.
But they can be reprimanded, and in the wake of recent events, fines and life-time bans seem to fall short of the mark if we are to rid English football from this stain on its character.
Fans who will indulge in the sick practice of exploiting the systematic extermination of six million Jews to ridicule a rival football team will thankfully always be the minority. The problem is that these pockets of fans will always have the capacity to make themselves heard, as we saw with the banners raised by Millwall fans abusing Bolton striker Marvin Sordell.
The FA has to come to terms with the fact that racism and anti-Semitism have not been altogether eradicated from the game in this country. To respond they must explore the possibilities of harsher punishments such as awarding the other team the match, or docking them points. The PFA and the FA must set about devising new ways to combat this behaviour, both to banish it from our leagues, and to set an example to other countries, many of whom are more profoundly affected by racism than we are.
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