The last politically correct form of prejudice is against football’s working-class supporters
There is a brilliant irony to the campaign to ‘kick racism out of football’: its backers — the commentators and FA suits driving this petit-bourgeois push to clean up footie — think in a similar way and use very similar lingo to the football-terrace racists they claim to hate.
Indeed, they have fully appropriated the racial thinking of those dumb blokes who used to hurl bananas at black football players. But they have turned it against white working-class football fans, whom they look upon as childish, inferior, tribal and monkey-like.
Much has been made of recent, allegedly racial clashes on the pitch involving John Terry of Chelsea and Luis Suárez of Liverpool. These incidents are evidence, observers and activists tell us, that the mass sport of football is still riddled with oafish racist attitudes. In truth, as befits a sport in which 30 per cent of professional players are black (putting to shame the diversity targets of every other profession), racism is massively on the wane in Britain’s football stadiums. It is incredibly rare today to see a fan making monkey gestures or noises at black players, not least because he’d probably get a slap from one of his fellow fans.
Yet the more racism disappears from British football, the more the PC lobby becomes obsessed with it. That’s because it is through accusations of racism against football fans that these people can express, in seemingly nice, liberal terminology, their own loathing of the white mob.
Ian Buruma, echoing those bygone fans who viewed black football players as a different breed to ‘us’, says that football fans are ‘primitive and tribal’. Violence is always bubbling under the surface in this popular sport, he says, because it consists largely of ‘collective aggression… evoking the days when warriors donned facial paint and jumped up and down in war dances, hollering like apes’. Monkey chants are bad, but comparing ordinary footie fans to apes is OK, apparently.
The view of working-class fans as a peculiar tribe is widespread. A Telegraph writer recently slammed the ‘tribalism which has blighted English football’ and the ‘one-eyed outlook of hate-filled fans’. When Liverpool dared to defend its striker Luis Suárez, after he was given an eight-match ban by the Football Association for using racist language, the head of European football’s anti-racism body accused it of ‘whipping up’ ‘tribal fervour’.
Another key plank of the old racial thinking was that blacks were really overgrown children, less intelligent than us adult whites. This prejudice has also been rehabilitated by the self-styled warriors against racism in modern football. ‘The mentality of the football fan is essentially that of a child,’ says the Independent’s Brian Viner. ‘Children are unable to tune in to the adult world and the same applies to most football fans.’
Others cleave to the view that football fans are worse than childish simpletons — they are animals. A writer for the Evening Standard says fans are like ‘Pavlov’s foaming dogs’. The loathing on display at football matches has become ‘part of the fabric of the game’, he says. ‘The hatred is programmed now.’
The Guardian’s sometime sports columnist Marina Hyde rails against offensive chanting at football matches with all the censorious vigour that her granddad, the Tory politician Sir Rolf Dudley-Williams, campaigned against smutty TV dramas. She prefers to refer to fans who chant foul things as monkeys rather than dogs, labelling them ‘knuckle-dragging cretins’.
There it is again — the monkey image, that view of ordinary fans as knuckle-scrapers, hollering like apes or foaming like dogs as they express the tribalistic hatred that has been programmed into them. Behind the liberal veneer, these outbursts against uncouth fans are only a slightly more erudite version of throwing bananas at people you fear and loathe.
The campaigners against racism in football like to fantasise that, to the extent that the old racial hatred has declined in football stadiums, it is thanks to their awareness-raising campaigns. Nonsense. Attitudes changed because the more that working-class people rubbed shoulders with black people, working with them, living with them, cheering the same teams as them, the more they realised that these blokes were actually just like us. Such a breakthrough is impossible between today’s snobbish football observers and the white fans they love to hate, because these snobs will never, not in a million years, rub shoulders with those dogs and apes.
This article first appeared in the print edition of The Spectator magazine, dated February 4, 2012