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Thursday, February 19, 2015 

Bloody football.

"Bloody football," my nan always used to say when it was on TV.  Considering her idea of an evening's viewing was to watch any and all of the soaps that were on, whether it was Scousers living in a cul de sac, farmer drama, former Carry On actors screaming GET OUTTA MY PUB or Mancunians in their local, it was a subject we agreed to disagree on.

That if you weren't a fan of the very occasionally beautiful game there were all those other things you could be doing was at least something.  Now you can't so much as watch the news and switch it off before the sport comes on.  As the ever wonderful Marina Hyde has been at the forefront of identifying, it seems every major societal issue must be refracted through the prism of our national game.  We've had the great Ched Evans debate, from which I think it can be said not a single person came out well, the victim herself all but forgotten.  Nor was foreign policy immune, as it was claimed Islamic State had a former Arsenal trainee in their ranks.  It was complete bollocks, just like the very old tale of Osama bin Laden being an Arsenal fan and turning up for a game at Highbury in the mid-90s was, but hey, it makes for a good story doesn't it?

And so we must sadly come to a combination of this plague with another: the blurry filming of an unpleasant public incident which tells us something very uncomfortable about life as we know it.  Paul Nolan happened to be present at a Paris underground station as a horde of quite probably half-pissed Chelsea fans were on their way to the Champions League game against Paris St. Germain.  We hear them chanting "where you were you in World War 2?" (answer for the vast majority: waiting to be born) before views are apparently exchanged between a black man trying to get on the train and the fans inside.  He is grabbed and pushed off, and then pushed off again.  Next the chant "we're racist we're racist and we like it" is heard, and we at last see a shot of the people who may or may not have been involved.  And that's it.

This has been enough to be front page news for the past two days.  Some have argued, a Chelsea fan amongst them, that it's all been taken out of context and the man wasn't being pushed off because he was black but as he was a PSG fan and there wasn't enough room anyway.  That quite clearly, considering the chanting and the available evidence, isn't the case.  All the same, it's not exactly the hooliganism of the past either, is it?  All things considered, there's likely to be far, far worse happening in cities and town across the country at the weekend, only they won't be filmed and they won't involve football supporters, at least not identifiably.

The search has duly commenced for the perpetrators of this crime, although it isn't exactly clear if one has been committed.  Assault, presumably?  Use of discriminatory language, if it can be proved, as none can be heard on the recording itself?  Acting like a bunch of cretins in a train station?  The Met has nonetheless said it will consider issuing banning orders, while Chelsea has since announced it has suspended three people from being able to attend Stamford Bridge.  One of the men it was soon discovered has even had a photograph taken with Nigel Farage, while the aforementioned Chelsea fan allegedly tweeted the chant about being racist at the time.

A few sensible people have pointed out that abhorrent and disgraceful as this incident was, it's a bit rum to concentrate on the actions of a tiny minority of idiots and suggest they are in any way representative of either Chelsea fans, football supporters in general or Brits abroad, however embarrassing and ugly such things are.  Not least when the "we're racist and we like it" chant is without doubt in part a reference to Chelsea captain John Terry, who was suspended by the FA after charmingly referring to Anton Ferdinand as a "fucking black cunt".  Terry received the wholehearted support of his club, unlike those who help to pay Terry's wages.  We also really don't need to bring up the whole Luiz Suarez debacle again, nor is there any reason to draw wider conclusions about the comments of former Italy manager Arrigo Sacchi, who said his country "had no pride, no dignity" after seeing the number of black players involved in a youth tournament.

You could also, if you wanted, point out the remarkable discrepancy between a profession which more than any other is a model of diversity, proof talent and skill have absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with skin colour, and how this obvious truism hasn't filtered down to some of the people watching the game.  This again though would only result in the conclusion some people are complete boneheads, and very little is going to get them to change their ways.  On their own they most likely wouldn't dream of acting in such a way, but in a group the pack mentality comes into play.  It ought to be a equal shame then that the response of so many to such videos is similar, with calls for those responsible to lose their jobs as well as face criminal penalties, the kind of additional punishment that wouldn't be counter-productive in the slightest.  The opprobrium that has already descended upon them is surely enough, isn't it?

Or maybe we should really get to the bottom of the prejudice, discrimination and boorishness at the heart of our country by sending out tens of thousands of pairs of Google glasses to whoever wants them and then compiling the footage into the most wrist-slittingly terrible document of our times yet seen.  The camera after all can never lie, mislead or give a false picture, just as bad behaviour can never be outbalanced by the good, the random acts of kindness that aren't rewarded or come to wider attention.  And just think we'd have bloody football to thank for putting an end to stupidity and the entire darker side of human nature; my nan would turn in her grave.

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