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Opinion: Football tribalism in danger of straying over a line

If you saw someone in the street whose friends or family had died in a plane crash, would you make aeroplane noises or gestures at them, or make hissing noises at a Jewish person? The answer to that is most likely no. Yet in a football stadium we seem to lose this sense and see no problem with it. It’s just a bit of banter, we don’t like that lot. But for me, it’s a sign of something much more sinister.

There’s an increasing sense of underlying nastiness in our society and this is one way it’s manifesting itself. My late grandfather and uncle used to stand on the terraces at Old Trafford in the 1960s and 1970s and never experienced anything like it. Something has changed, it needs to change again.

We United fans get extremely angry, rightly so, at any supporters making aeroplane noises or gestures mocking the Munich Air Disaster (as happened recently at Norwich) yet some of us see nothing wrong in mocking Liverpool in relation to Hillsborough or Heysel, whilst the same appears to be true in reverse. What hypocrisy! What makes one ok, but not the other? The answer, it would seem is the football club they supported or played for. Is this really the measure of human life, one person’s life is worth less than another’s based on football allegiance? One can be mocked (or even celebrated) but the other is protected?

But it’s not just Manchester United and Liverpool where this is an issue. Tottenham is a club well known for having a large Jewish fan base. As a result many Spurs fans (Jewish or otherwise) began calling themselves ‘The Yids’ or ‘The Yid Army’. It started with the best of intentions, the reclaim the word for the fascists who used it to demonise Jews and make it a good thing again. Sadly this served to exacerbate the problem. By using it themselves Spurs fans created a problem. If they could refer to themselves that way, then others felt they could to. You might think it’s no problem, there’s far worse things and you’d be right, because it didn’t stop with the Y word, on several occasions opposition fans have been known to start making hissing sounds towards Spurs fans, in reference to the Nazi Gas Chambers. Is that acceptable? Is that banter?

Elsewhere Chelsea are another club to experience this with almost every Chelsea loanee subjected to chants of ‘Chelsea Rent Boy’. If I was a gay supporter of Chelsea, or whichever club was chanting it, I’m not sure I would feel comfortable. The fact is these chants aren’t banter, they wouldn’t be acceptable in the street and they do nothing to enhance the game or the atmosphere.

Manchester United, like many clubs, have a library of chants about the club, current and former players that should be more than enough to accomplish that goal and if you do want to ‘banter’ the opposition supporters there are much better ways of doing it.

A few years ago, Norwich came to Old Trafford during the Green and Gold campaign and they armed themselves with the chant ‘We’re Norwich City, we’ve come for our scarves’. That’s funny, topical and a perfect example of banter. We chant about previous matches, previous mistakes made by opposition players and the like, we don’t need to stray into this territory where we decide one person is worth more than another because of a football club. I don’t want to see atmospheres ruined or chanting stopped, but football stadiums should be places where everyone feels they can go.

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