Racism still a menace

Bottles and beer cans float in the water as a flare is thrown by Feyenoord fans in the fountain called "Barcaccia" at the Spanish steps, in downtown Rome, prior to the Europa League match against Roma.-AP

As for the excesses of the Chelsea fans on the Metro, which have elicited a hurricane of horror and protest in England, repugnant as it was, perhaps we should try to get things into perspective. However crude and loutish the behaviour of the Chelsea oafs was, at least no violence was involved. By Brian Glanville.

It’s disconcerting that a bunch of Chelsea supporting louts, proudly chanting that they were racists, should push a would-be black passenger off a metro train in Paris. That West Ham United followers leaving a match in Tottenham should indulge in crude anti-Semitic chants. Ugly enough incidents indeed, yet surely worse still in that period of a hectic few days was what happened in Rome; and in the historic centre of Rome at that. There, for no apparent reason, hundreds of supporters of the Dutch team, Feyenoord of Rotterdam, ran wild, like a barbarian invasion in the ancient world.

They did not attack rival fans. Indeed, the groups of neo-Fascist hooligans who follow the local teams of Roma and Lazio were conspicuous this time by their absence, where on all too many other torrid occasions they are known viciously to assault hapless rivals fans in the elegant Campo de Fiori. More elegant still, of course, is the exquisite Piazza di Spagna with its famous Spanish steps and it was there that the Dutch fans ran riot, even managing to damage a famous statue by Bernini. We have yet to hear any explanation of this mass hooliganism.

As for the excesses of the Chelsea fans on the Metro, which have elicited a hurricane of horror and protest in England, repugnant as it was, perhaps we should try to get things into perspective. However crude and loutish the behaviour of the Chelsea oafs was, at least no violence was involved. In very sharp contrast with the ravages and brutalities, some 20 years ago, of the so called Chelsea Head Hunters. This was a neo-Nazi group which committed its crimes not only in London against rival fans but all over England.

One was sharply reminded of their excesses when a newspaper commissioned a former Chelsea winger Paul Canoville to recall his suffering at Stamford Bridge. The first black player to ever represent Chelsea — who now employ them so profitably en masse — he was so viciously barracked and insulted by the neo-Nazi group that he left the club in despair, for a career which ultimately fell apart.

Eventually, the Head Hunters were brought to penal court, thanks to the astonishingly brave efforts of an undercover policeman, who insinuated himself into their ragged group. In court, the thugs were all convicted and sentenced to long terms in prison.

That should ideally have been that. But the Head Hunters appealed and their convictions were overturned, on the grounds that the evidence supplied by that brave undercover policeman, no doubt scribbled surreptitiously in notes, was ruled and deemed unacceptable! One supposes that ideally he would have used a wire; as it was, the louts went free and were all awarded substantial compensation. Things among Chelsea fans now are hardly ideal — there is still a far Right racist element — but the police with the aid of surveillance equipment have long since taken command in the stadiums, and the Head Hunters are a mere vile memory.

A group of West Ham fans, displaying the famed Cockney humour rather than the bigotry of too many of their fellows, amusingly set up the Metro incident by filming themselves courteously standing by to welcome a black passenger onto another London train. But the crass and crude anti-Semitism of far too many of their fellow supporters has all too often been all too evident when Hammers play Tottenham in the London derby at Spurs’ White Hart Lane. The point being that Spurs have a large Jewish following. Which has motivated the West Ham fans behind the Paxton Road goal — as I myself was there to see a couple of seasons ago — in a sustained, repugnant hissing chorus, this representing the Nazi gas chambers of the Holocaust. The police have put an end to this, but those fans are still capable of chorusing threateningly, “He’s coming for you,” with it’s obvious sinister implications.

London humour being what it is, the Tottenham fans themselves have long turned the anti-Semitic insults of other London fans into a collective joke, calling themselves Tottenham Yids, with a massed chorus of “Yiddo!” Not long ago it appeared that London’s police didn’t see the all too obvious joke, decided that it wasn’t a joke at all but anti-Semitic in implication and denounced it absurdly as a criminal activity, which would be banned; with prosecution now threatened to any who sung such a chorus.

There was a hurricane of protest, and the police ridiculed themselves by making but a single arrest of a man who dared to sing the chorus. Needless to say it never came to court and the fatuous ban was quietly forgotten.

To be fair to Chelsea fans at large, the well behaved majority of them hoping to get into the Parc des Princes for the PSG game were held up outside till 25 minutes into the match by the Paris police for no evident reason, and there was a whiff of tear gas in the arena. I could not help but be reminded by an old satirical English song lampooning those very police with lines such as, “Of ourselves we take good care... when trouble comes we’re never there,” suggesting: “If we spy a helpless woman, or a feeble child in arms, we run them in, we run them in, we run them in, we show them we’re the bold gendarmes.”

Alas, racism rears its ugly head in so many other countries than those most recently impugned. Last season, during a friendly game against Pro Patria of Busto Arsizio, long ago toppled far from the nights of Italian Serie A, the whole Milan team marched in protest off the field after racist chanting. Black players in an England team were jeered some seasons ago during a match against Spain in Madrid. Juventus fans had the atrocious habit of singing about the then black Milan striker, now Liverpool’s. “If we jump up and down, Balotelli will die.”

And only the other day, astoundingly, we have had the former Italy and Milan manager Arrigo Sacchi declaring that too many young black players are coming into the Italian game. This from a man, who in his successful Milan days, owed so much to the superb performances of black stars Ruud Gullit and Frank Rijkard.

All in all, that nasty little episode on the Paris Metro tends to pale into relative insignificance compared with what, alas, is going on so often elsewhere. And let us not begin to speak of what goes on so shamefully in the Balkans.