Arsenal’s annual visit to the Britannia Stadium always includes a rather bizarre tradition – Stoke City fans berating Aaron Ramsey for once having his leg broken in two places by a Ryan Shawcross horror tackle. An insidious act on the Welshman’s part, I’m sure you’ll all agree.
Ramsey’s more than used to it by now; a chorus of jeers has been the soundtrack of every appearance he’s made at the Britannia since the incident in 2010. But whilst Arsenal and the Potters produced a goalless stalemate yesterday evening, efforts to villianise the midfielder reached an unprecedentedly macabre level as a new song entered the Stoke City repertoire – “Aaron Ramsey, he walks with a limp.”
Part of what makes the Premier League so great is the culture of the English fan base and the atmospheres it consistently provides. I’m sure La Liga, Bundesliga and Serie A followers will argue their support is equally vocal, charming and essential to the success of the league, but there’s a unique sense of humour amongst English terrace chanting and an implicit understanding of acceptability.
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On the most part, racial and homophobic slurs have been weeded out, whilst their ugly heads still rear in Italy and Spain from time to time, and the majority of songs are either laced in tradition or wise-crack reactions to on-pitch events.
Stoke’s chant towards Ramsey didn’t fall into the category of an ‘ism’, but that doesn’t mean it was any less condemning of those who joined in. Shawcross’s challenge on the Arsenal star back in 2010 truly was that bad and he was lucky to be out for less than a calendar year. It impacted Ramsey psychologically for much longer; only two seasons after returning to fitness did the Wales international finally begin producing the level of form heralded of him as a youngster and in 2013 Arsene Wenger attributed the delay to ‘mental scars‘.
Of course, that won’t mean much to Stoke City fans. Injuries are part of the trade and they’re at the Britannia to support their team, which requires the odd vilification of the opposition throughout the course of ninety minutes. But the boos defy all logic – why would you single out an opposition player for once getting injured? – and the limp chant lost all sense of morality. Whether you think Shawcross is the greatest defender in the world or the best captain the Potters have ever had, how can you openly celebrate him delivering a career-threatening tackle on another professional?
The excuse that Ramsey deserves a hostile reception for refusing Shawcross’s apology all those years ago simply doesn’t wash – and I’m sure it’s a moment in the 28-year-old’s career that he’s not particularly proud of either. Even Stoke chairman Peter Coates has sought to condemn Sunday’s chant, telling The Guardian; “I’ve no idea that chant had taken place, but we wouldn’t approve of it at all. I don’t think it’s a minority of fans; I know it’s a minority. People chant all sorts of awful things at all sorts of grounds, which I dislike. But do I approve of that sort of chanting? Of course I don’t.”
Coates certainly raises a valid point. Stoke’s aren’t the only set of fans to forget individual responsibility and give in to the mob mentality; Arsenal have often been accused of anti-Semitic chants towards Tottenham Hotspur and most clubs have a song that can be deemed distasteful. Football is, in itself, a nationalist enterprise at regional level; every team has their own anthems, historical myths, emblems, flags and ties with the local community; and when surrounded by tens of thousands of comrades, the comprehension of right and wrong can suddenly become suspended until leaving the ground.
But one sin cannot condone another and Stoke’s collective angst towards Ramsey has gone on for far too long, especially considering it lacked any form of logic in the first place. If fans really do see Ramsey as an enemy of the club, simply because Shawcross broke his leg and some resultantly criticised the Potters’ physical brand of football, those fans are clearly a little more sensitive than the limp chants would have you believe.
The problem, however, is attempting to control the actions of thousands of people without resorting to excessive measures, whilst sympathy for Ramsey from pundits and the media is only likely to increase the ill-feeling towards him – so if any armistice is to be reached, it must come from the Stoke City fans.
I’m sure a substantial number refused to take part in the chanting on Sunday and it’s those who must now make their voices of reason the loudest. The chant does the reputations of Stoke City, the Premier League and football in general no good at all.