Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Chelsea fans and the Paris Metro incident: what to make of it?

I am almost certain that no club in English league football has entirely eradicated racism from their fancies. I’ve argued in the past with the REDaction Twitter account (the biggest Arsenal supporters’ group) when they’ve pointed out racism at other clubs and mocked them - on one count, racism is still a disease which affects clubs north and south, those supported by the ‘liberal metropolitan elites’ and those who have a more ‘traditional’ fanbase.

On the other hand, perhaps Chelsea actually are more complicit than most clubs when it comes to the problem, despite it not being a partisan issue. The facts are as follows: although John Terry was found not guilty of racially abusing Anton Ferdinand, the judge was in no doubt that Terry had uttered a racist phrase. And it is notoriously difficult to secure a conviction for this sort of thing. Meanwhile, Chelsea staunchly defended their captain, despite him being handed a four-match ban by the Football Association and a fine of £220,000.

This would be bad in any instance. But Terry is often pointed to as the man who embodies Chelsea value and his commitment to the club is second to none. If that’s true, what does it say about Chelsea as a club? Certainly, in mitigation, Chelsea are likely not racist but just poorly run - the response to Ashley Cole shooting an intern with an air rifle was to tell him off like a naughty teenager when he was a 30 year-old man earning over £100,000 a week, who had SHOT AN INTERN.

But regardless, there was clearly so much more that could have been done in the wake of the Terry-Ferdinand incident. If Terry were truly against racism, he could have come out and campaigned much more strongly against it. He didn’t - and the message which came from Chelsea was at best mixed. Sure, there are plenty of other people campaigning against racism. But the reformed character who realises that what he was doing was wrong provides by far the most compelling message, particularly in terms of convincing the sort of people who currently do carry out racist behaviour. For example, one of the best campaigners against the BNP was somebody who had been involved in the BNP - because he could palpably demonstrate the fallacies they were peddling, but in addition, he could relate much more strongly to the sort of people who might ordinarily sympathise with the BNP.

It’s not just about Terry either - it’s about a message coming from a club which was renowned as racist in the 1980s: Chelsea’s insistence on a siege mentality and not admitting the club could ever do anything wrong (see, for example, how their website responds to adverse refereeing) means that it becomes much harder to weed this sort of thing out than it otherwise could be.

Even if Chelsea and Terry were to have taken a stronger tack, the Paris Metro incident might still have happened - but it’s hard to think such actions would not have made the incident less likely. Indeed, even last week, the editor of a Chelsea fanzine appeared on the radio claiming the reaction to the incident had been overblown: there still remains an oft-latent element within English football fandom who conflates racism with (and I hate to use this word) banter.

In the wake of the incident, Chelsea’s response has been admirable. But the charge that Chelsea could have done more to prevent such an incident ever occurring still stands.