“You know what you are.
You know what you are, Anton Ferdinand.
You know what you are.”
Those were the chants from a section of Chelsea fans in Genk during Tuesday night’s Champions League clash. Tell me it ain’t so. Someone wake me up. I just plunged into football apartheid. Okay, maybe that’s taking it a step too far, but honestly I was naive enough to think this sort of mentality was history in British sport on this sort of scale. I’ve sometimes counted my blessings that my Eastern European linguistics have let me down when the likes of Emile Heskey have ventured beyond the Iron Curtain. But this was loud and clear in surround-sound English. I could not ignore it. In some ways I found it more disturbing than the incident at Loftus Road between John Terry and Anton Ferdinand. I suppose the mob is always more intimidating than the individual. My use of the term ‘mob’ has likely conjured up some frightening images given the context at hand. After all, if the poison comes from a single person, the public can more easily disassociate itself, even if it is a famous figure. But when it is cast by a larger group surely it starts to raise more questions at the societal level. Football truly reaches deep within the fan. Sometimes it brings people together with feelings of pure joy and common cause…..and on some occasions it tears people away from decent human behavior.
But perhaps we are taking the fans out of context like Terry himself. John Terry’s alleged comments to Anton Ferdinand, regardless of the outcome of the pending investigations by the FA and police, will have a damning affect on the image of the English game. I have no doubt the league will recover, but I have a feeling the FA is going to send a harsh message to any parties found guilty of racial abuse and rightfully so. I do not see ‘context’ as being a valid defense, unless it was a game of ‘Simon Says’. The FA did not take kindly to Wayne Rooney’s ‘f word’ outburst last season at Upton Park giving him a two match ban. The context of his actions was that of emotional release after months of on-field frustration and off-field scrutiny. Surely, we can understand the poor guy is just showing his own form of passion?Wrong! Some things cannot go unpunished.
Is it any wonder that some top tier footballers develop a god-complex? They are constantly being handled like deities. Their agents issue their words. Their managers either see no evil or make apologies on their behalf. Even their fans blindly support them as John Terry fans did in Genk. Something tells me these same fans were not slagging off Anton Ferdinand at the water cooler in their office on Wednesday morning, but maybe my naivety catches up with me again.
It appears to me that football’s tribalism has yet again reared its ugly head. This is a time to put tribalism aside and kick racism out of the game. After all, it is the beautiful game we crave the most….in all its shapes and colors.