Why football crowds are now left to police the ignorant few

Sir Alex Ferguson, Old Trafford, Manchester United 4 Wigan 0If ever there was evidence that it takes so little to do so much damage, than perhaps you need to look no further than events at Old Trafford on Saturday, following Manchester United’s brilliant 4-0 win over Wigan Athletic.

It speaks volumes that in a game which saw the legendary Paul Scholes make his 700th appearance, the brilliant Alexander Büttner score on his debut and a fleeting glimpse at the talents of Nick Powell, we were still found talking about something else. Indeed, out of the 76,000 who filled Old Trafford to witness these feats, it was the acts of a very small ignorant minority, who ensured that the back pages were focused on events in the stands rather than on the pitch.

Amongst the back catalogue of songs wheeled out every weekend in the red half of Manchester, there was one in particular that no one wanted to hear in any capacity, which reared its ugly head. A very small minority took to chant: “It’s never your fault, it’s never your fault, always the victims, it’s never your fault.”

The significance and meaning of this does not need to be underplayed. Some United supporters have been at pains to suggest that although the chant was indeed aimed at Liverpool and its supporters’, the ridicule was based around the Luis Suarez-Patrice Evra race row of last season. An argument that feels awfully short-sighted, given the release of the Hillsborough Independent Panel’s findings three days earlier.

Of course, only those that were participating in them will truly know the original intent behind the chanting, but the writing is very much on the wall. It was shameful and hideously distasteful act, orchestrated by a very moronic minority in light of the past week’s events. No one involved in the footballing community would have been in any way uninformed about the landmark events of the past week relating to the Hillsborough disaster; let alone a paying member of Manchester United. No one can cry ignorance here – those engaged in the chant were well aware of the implications and the context of what they were saying.

Yet as important as it is to condemn those who instigated this, as both Manchester United and the Manchester United Supporters Trust have rightly and superbly done so, it is just as important to note how much of a small minority these people consist of. It’s a quote that bestows real gravitas in the footballing world, but to reference the old proverb, it is the empty vessels that make the loudest noise.  Silencing them, however, is a far more difficult task indeed.

Because although English football has done a superb job at policing the physicality of our terraces, in the vast eradication of hooliganism, policing the mentality of fans, is a completely different prospect all together. There aren’t any easy answers.

The Premier League’s current stance, as it has been for quite some time, seems to be to take their collective heads and bury them well and truly into the sand. For them, it is a matter for the clubs to deal with, not the governing body. Until that changes, which it’s difficult to see if/when that might be the case, then it is hard to picture clubs deciding to ban 600, 700 even a 1000 paying customers at a time. Without any real, ultimate threat – such as having to play a match behind closed doors – to be used as a consequence to supporters, it is very hard to police indeed.

One potential alternative is the use of headcams and video equipment on matchday stewards, something that has already been in practise several times at Tottenham Hotspur over the years. But the headcams, roundly criticised by civil rights groups, have come in for some heavy critique from the vast majority of those who aren’t in the wrong. Why should 95% of the crowd not doing anything wrong, be subject to some big brother culture at a game they’ve paid an awful lot of hard earned money to attend?

On last night’s Match of the Day 2, ex-Coventry City striker Dion Dublin suggested perhaps the best alternative to combatting the ignorant few is simply to ‘sing louder’. The school of thought was that a large proportion of the small minority that behaves in such a way at football clubs, are the hardcore so to speak. The assertion that the post passionate and vocally intimidating are always the instigators, is wrong and something of a real stereotype, but there is credence in his opinion.

Because if the league aren’t going to step in and do anything and the clubs continue to toe a line of condemnation as opposed to action, then that leaves the fans to rectify the minority.

A crowd mentality evokes both passion but also intimidation in equal members. As already noted, it is the minority who participate in spewing the vitriol at matches, but this notion that some upstanding supporter is going to apprehend and tap a few of these boys on the shoulder, attempting to fix their moral compass mid-match, is simply flawed. You’d like to see one any one of these social commentators who slate the majority of well respecting fans for not doing anything, stand up with a megaphone in the United end or the Kop (who’s chants aimed at the Munich air disaster are just as disgusting) at Anfield next Sunday and tell any potential pockets of moronic fans to pipe down.

Football in this country is tribal and rivalries do breed in some cases, whatever anyone likes to say, hate and a burning disdain. But if someone can’t distinguish the difference between being a football fan and a human being – such as the ridicule of the loss of human life in either the Munich or Hillsborough disasters – there is little chance of being able to change that persons view midway through a game of football.

If the authorities will stand still, than it’s up to the majority to drown out the ignorant few. You can’t change the way a proportion of idiots behave, but the majority can prove themselves to be exactly what they are themselves; the real representation of their clubs. If every time these chants are uttered by a few, the rest of us stand up and support our club in the right way, then we aren’t just defending the values of our club – we’re ensuring the next generation recognise what it means to be a supporter. And that is perhaps the most important notion of all.

How do you feel about the notion of vile chanting on the terraces? Can you ever see clubs or the league stepping up to combat it? Let me know how you feel about it on Twitter: follow @samuel_antrobus and bat me all your views. 

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Article title: Why football crowds are now left to police the ignorant few

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