This was, apparently, “banter” – “bantz”. Some even claimed it wasn’t “really racist”. Ah. Like it wasn’t racist when Chelsea’s John Terry called QPR’s Anton Ferdinand a “fucking black c*nt”, or when Big Ron Atkinson called World Cup winner Marcel Desailly “a fucking lazy thick n*gger”. The ambiguities are still rather lost on me.
I thought we were rid of this nonsense. I thought it had gone by the end of the 1980s. I still can recall the bear pit of Chelsea’s Shed End with its National Front thugs.
Surely the nightmare’s not returning? I’m baffled. I’ve been a fan of West London’s finest, QPR, for 30 years. It nourishes a bracing stoicism, a grim fatalism, and occasional suicidal tendencies, as yet another defeat is plucked from the jaws of victory. Despair is our comfort zone. We don’t do hope. But we don’t do racism either.
There’s always been an inclusive family vibe at Loftus Road. My five-year-old daughter was once kissed on the bonce by Trevor Sinclair after he scored the winner against Liverpool. Bliss! Sir Les Ferdinand came to talk to my tutor set. Many of my pupils attended games. They’d perch behind the goal and wave at me, as they wound up the opposition’s always “dodgy keeper”. Their tutor and moral icon, I couldn’t quite join in. I was also reluctant to stick a blue flag up opposition bottoms or suggest that the referee’s criminal myopia was concomitant on an excessive self-pleasuring. Nor could I quite lose it.
Well, once. Against Man Utd. We are winning 1-0 in the dying seconds of Fergie time. Giggs crosses. Defence crumbles. Cantona scores. Fergie does mad uncle jig. Keano charges towards us crushed, noble fans, raises a middle digit and gloats psychotically at us. Provocation beyond all measure! My pupils’ curse back in ripe Anglo Saxon. Me too. I apologise in Monday’s pastoral lesson with the usual liberal pieties: “Passion must not become prejudice.”
But most fans are nothing like les cretins dans Le Metro. How do you get like that? Their team has mostly foreign players. Are they in a state of terminal schizophrenia? Do they boo their own team? Hit themselves? Is it poverty, austerity, disenfranchisement? Probably not anymore. It costs a fortune to watch Chelsea – and in Paris?
Hopefully, these antics belong to an increasingly tiny minority. And condemnation has been pretty universal. John Terry and Jose Mourinho and stadium banners are anti-racism. “Big Ron” is, as yet, mute. That’s the way we like it.
Ian Whitwham is a former inner city London teacher.