There's a very interesting thread on my West Ham Blog on a post headed "The Evils of Racism". I wrote it yesterday in response to the West Bromwich Albion fan forum The Stirrer, Bob Piper and Ministry of Truth who had written more about the Radio 4 interview and my remarks concerning Adrian Chiles. I had said of the Carol Thatcher incident that he had probably heard far worse every Saturday afternoon at the Hawthorns. By which I meant that football grounds are places where aggressive banter takes place. I hadn't meant to imply that Baggies fans were a bunch of racists, especially bearing in mind the fact that their team were trailblazers in picking black players (Lawrie Cunnigham, Cyrille Regis etc). Anyway, at the end of the post, I wrote this...
The reason I want to clarify my remarks regarding WBA is that I recognise how horrible it is not just to be accused of racism, but for it even to be hinted at. [cf the three posts on LabourList accusing me of condoning racism]
Indeed, on two occasions at West Ham I have intervened when I heard a racial comment being directed at a player (on the first occasion it was aimed at one of our own players, Matthew Rush) and asked the idiot to button it. I can’t pretend I wasn’t nervous about doing it, but everyone around me backed me up (luckily!) on each occasion. I would like to think I would do it again but I am glad to say it hasn’t happened since 2001.
A couple of months ago, someone a couple of rows behind me shouted out to an opposing player something which many would regard as homophobic. I couldn’t decide whether it was banter or really was homophobic. By the time I had decided that yes, it was homophobic, the moment had kind of passed and I did nothing. I’d like to think if it happens again I’d have the guts to turn around and say “that’s me you are talking about. You got a problem?” If it does happen, no doubt you’ll read about it here.
The comments on the thread are very illuminating, and if anything, the debate has been far more informed an polite than it has been on this blog. I wonder what that says! I want to pick out this comment from a West Ham fan, Darren, which illustrates perfectly the dilemmas of this whole argument...
What a remarkable morning’s posting, and funny with it. But here’s the thing. I’m a gay West Ham boxholder (see, we’re everywhere, but mainly near a bar) and to my similarly hard-drinking footie mates that’s about as interesting as whether I’m left or right-handed. But isn’t all of this about context? My black (straight) mate is forever keen to reinforce the stereotype about the size of what’s in his underwear, a Jewish acquaintance is a Spurs supporter and loaded (and gets ribbed for it), I’m always complaining that West Ham players are universally ugly (though things are improving a bit of late). They are only words, it’s malice or intent that matters. By all accounts Carol Thatcher meant nothing by what she said (anyone who has ever seen or heard her would be aware she’s hardly the sharpest knife in the drawer). So consider this: it’s the last ten minutes v Hull, everyone’s up for a corner and in goes Cole, Boa Morte, Ilunga and Faubert, a bit of melee and the ball goes out of play. Bloody hell, I said, no idea what happened there it was just a forest of black, shaven heads. I know said my mate, it’s like looking down on a box of matches from here. Now I think that’s funny, and NOT racist. But dissect it on Radio 4 for a couple of hours and see where it ends up. Bored already.