Finding the line between banter and abuse

By Jason McKeown

The first local away trip of the season, and a first ever trip to the New York stadium – you can be sure that this weekend’s clash between Rotherham and Bradford City will attract a healthy away support. It should be a great occasion, and the atmosphere will no doubt be very loud and vocal.

But will it spill over into something more ugly? And where is the line between justified passion, and unacceptable behaviour?

The villain

Enter Steve Evans. That horrible, detestable bloke who now manages Rotherham United. As if his past crimes weren’t bad enough, Evans won no friends in BD8 last March after the way he and his then-Crawley side behaved at Valley Parade. They probably had the best squad in League Two last season, but seemed held back – rather than aided – by Evans’ unattractive, physical long ball tactics. Worse still was the way he and his players patronised the referee by applauding every decision he gave them, and then attempting to intimidate him for every decision they did not get. Throw in time-wasting, shirt pulling and other overly physical challenges; and we endured an evening where little on the pitch resembled a football match.

But then came the aftermath: the brawl, the punches, and the lack of manager handshakes. The late red cards dished out in the dressing rooms, the fear that the suspensions to key City players would trigger relegation, the worry of potential point deductions, the FA hearing. Weeks later there were even national newspaper reports of Evans acting inappropriately towards a female Bradford City employee.

It all left a sour, sour taste. And Evans has become a hated figure at Valley Parade. He is going to get some awful stick from us away supporters this weekend. Much of it will be deserved, much of it will be funny; but there should also be a worry that much of it ends up going too far.

The Lee Hughes factor

Less than a month ago, a decent City away following departed Meadow Lane in great spirits after a convincing Bantams display led to an extra time victory over higher league opposition. But not everyone had enjoyed a pleasant Saturday afternoon in the sunshine, after the behaviour of a minority of fellow supporters caused upset.

The target of most City fans attention had been Notts County striker Lee Hughes. Another deserving round of booing for a man who did something in his past that many of us find utterly reprehensible. It’s not that he doesn’t merit his freedom after serving his prison sentence, but to be playing professional football? It’s not right, surely. I would be ashamed if City ever signed him.

At the front of the stand, a group of supporters allegedly went further than the widespread booing of Hughes and chants of ‘murderer’, calling him the ‘c’ word and acting in an unsavoury manner. Apparently nearby parents felt they had to move their children to another part of the stand, such was the distress caused. Stewards and police observed the actions of these supporters, but did nothing to stop or deter them. One fan was so upset by what he saw, that he decided to film their behaviour and, after the game, make complaints to both football clubs and the police.

Having revealed his intentions to press for action on this site, this supporter has unfortunately being the subject of threatening and abuse emails that have made reference to attacking him and his family – it’s unclear how they got hold of his email address, and it certainly wasn’t via this site. These emails have been coming in since the game and now total nine in number, ultimately leaving the supporter feeling that he had no option but to ask Width of a Post to delete his comments for fear of these threats being acted out.

Let us be clear that this is a regular City fan who has observed and being appalled by what he considered to be unacceptable behaviour of others; and has ended up receiving threats from anonymous people for speaking out. He has no problem with others completely disagreeing with his comments and conclusions, and is fully prepared to argue his corner vociferously, but has no appetite in doing so under the pall of such personal threats. Unable to identify who is sending these emails, he has reluctantly decided to withdraw all requests for action from both the Police and the two clubs, for fear of some kind of retribution.

It is an interesting measurement of what we supporters – a community of people – consider to be acceptable. I would never tell you what to think, valued reader, but I’d hope you would share my outrage at what he has experienced.

A community issue

You can argue that the incident above occurred away from Valley Parade and so the club and majority of City supporters have no responsibility. But still, we are talking about the matchday experience of Bradford City fans, and the whole Bantams community – the club especially – has a key role to play in making sure it is a welcoming and inclusive one.

How many parents who felt they had to move their children at Meadow Lane will feel encouraged to take them to another away match? Perhaps – in view of the likelihood of Evans receiving a vile reception on Saturday – they will have already decided on another family activity for this weekend. As Width of a Post reader Richard Marigold commented during the post-County debate, he will not take his grandchildren to watch City, never mind bring them up as City supporters, because of the bad language aired at games.

Width of a Post has no desire to join a witch hunt against the people who caused upset to others at Meadow Lane – it should be in the hands of the right people to deal with. But if they are acting in a way which upsets fellow supporters, or that sullies the reputation of the football club, questions have to be asked.

Bringing us back to this Saturday, I will certainly be booing Evans and giving him some stick. The guy deserves it. But where is the line between fair comment and abusive behaviour? As a group of people totalling hundreds, it will be very easy to use the cloak of anonymity as an excuse to join in with any vulgar or offensive chanting. Equally it’s difficult to make a stand against it. There are already regular City chants that I, personally, dislike – the Leeds-IRA nonsense for starters – but my refusal to join in does not stop them from being aired frequently.

Five years ago at Christie Park, a minority of City supporters decided to chant about 18 cockle pickers dying in Morecambe Boy three years earlier. Few of us joined in and the uncomfortable feeling it caused killed the atmosphere. But no one (myself included) was brave enough to challenge the people chanting it, and Bradford City supporters and the club received negative publicity after these events were highlighted in the Big Issue. This underlines the fact that, not only is there an inherent danger of offensive chanting on Saturday causing upset to fellow supporters, but any lack of attempt by the rest of us to make known any disapproval could lead to the reputation of the club being damaged.

So as much as many of us supporters are looking forward to travelling to South Yorkshire and providing Evans with an uncomfortable afternoon, it would be great to have some form of debate over how we really want to represent our football club and what the priorities are. Me personally, I think cheering on our players and ensuring an enjoyable environment for all City supporters are the joint priorities, with giving Evans deserved stick a rather distant third.

I would love to know, valued reader, what your take on it all is. Please leave a comment and let’s have a debate.

Categories: Opinion

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14 replies

  1. There is a fine line between banter and abuse, but we all know that abuse does go on at football matches. Yes as responsible adults we should stand up to these abusers, but when faced with a group of often drunken agressive people am I going to make a stand on my own – No I’m not. Should the stewards and police do something, probably especially if the actions are causing distress to other members of the crowd, whether home or away. As for you comments about Lee Hughes and should he be a professional footballer still, yes he should he has served his time, and is it any different to any other person that does his time for the crime then gets back into society, be that as a plumber or a professional sports person, at least he is earning his own money and not being reliant on the state.

  2. I have to agree with your comments. No doubt, football is an emotive topic, sometimes focus is lost and anger displayed. Bad language can be heard frequently around the grounds, not just at city but at any football ground in the country. Although I don’t personally agree with this, it happens, and I have to say that the individual in question did right in moving from that area. I’ve been watching City since I was four years old. My dad simply told me not to repeat any language I heard. However, for that to spill over into personal abuse and threats to a fellow supporter is just wrong, and frankly embarrassing. We should all be united as one, a common cause of wanting to see a successful city team win. There will always be those who claim to support city ‘more’ than others and see abusing opposition as key to this, but when attacks become personal in nature..the line is drawn for me.

  3. I can’t help but feel the individuals who have sent abusive and threatening e-mails to a fellow Bradford City fan are completely out of order and this should not be tolerated, I personally feel despite his experience he shouldn’t have wanted to involve the Police or both football clubs but that doesn’t mean other supporters have the right to abuse and threaten him.

    As for a certain Steve Evans, well… he deserves a lot of stick, but stick can be given in a number of different ways and that is where it can be misunderstood, it can turn into abuse.

    The man should not be threatened or abused for the filthy, non football way he set up his Crawley side but he should be given a lot of stick for his actions that day and since that day.

    I for one will be joining in the chants, but if they cross the line and fellow supporters made me aware of their disapproval then this would stop, after all the experience needs to be enjoyed by all, and not just a minority of the BCAFC family.

  4. A timely article Jason, I personally have viewed this upcoming game with an uneasy feeling.
    Whilst I and many others are looking forward to going to a new ground to follow City, have an enjoyable afternoon, and hopefully watch a good win, too many City supporters will view it as an opportunity for trying to cause an afternoon of mayhem in Rotherham both inside and outside of the ground, with the game a secondary concern.
    I have seen too many instances of City ‘supporters’, usually but not always, the worse for alcohol, looking for trouble at away grounds in any way they can get it, even organising it beforehand with the locals, so it is not a problem just with City fans.
    It makes me ashamed to go to away games and see this behaviour, but I don’t feel anyone can really do much about it anymore as it is a problem endemic in society, and probably lies with peoples lack of respect for anyone and anything, other than themselves, your recent commenter has found out what can happen if you confront it.
    I will probably go on Saturday but with great unease.

  5. I’m a grown man, I’ve heard (and on rare occassions, even be known to f*cking use) industrial language and, in the midst of football matches, I’ve been less than complimentary about the physical attributes of opposition players (too fat, too bald – but more often than not, too bloody good…) – however the abuse of Lee Hughes was, frankly, embarrassing – and for a myriad of reasons. Here are a few:-

    1) If I was a relative of the victim of Hughes’s horribly selfish and thoughtless actions then I would be apalled to hear my own personal tragedy being used as an excuse to goad and gloat by scores of complete strangers for nine long months over the course of a football season – which leads me to:
    2) It’s neither original or witty (if it ever was…) or even factually correct. He is not a murderer – cowardly, stupid, selfish, yes. Which leads to:
    3) Hughes is probably inured to it all now. He’s endured the abuse for years, yet he still seems to be able to put the ball in the onion bag on a regular basis – several times against City over the last two or three years. If anything, I wouldn’t be surprised if the abuse is totally counter-productive and pointless, inspiring the angry mekon to up his game against teams with particularly vociferous support.
    4) As far as I’m aware (although I’m prepared to be corrected…) Bradford City are the only team to actually have had a bona fide murderer play for their first XI in recent times, so it’s a bit rich coming from our fans – Gavin Grant, anyone?

    I’m not naive enough to think that the abuse of Hughes will end anytime soon, but whilst some knuckle-dragging elements of the City support insist on maintaining this medieval mob-mentality all they do is serve to demean the memory of the victim, themselves and the name of the football club they support.

    As for Steve Evans… well, he’s just a tw*t isn’t he?

    • Tbh im more concerned about the 3 points on sat.
      I couldnt give two hoots that its rotherham and steve evans.
      what went on at vp last year is history for me.

  6. In fairness it wasn’t a minority chanting to Lee Hughes at Notts, the whole crowd got involved early on, just some got bored of it quicker than others. If the group is the one i’m thinking of is those who were overly abusive at the game, then they should have been removed. They were obvious trouble causers who couldn’t handle the drink they’d had, and the security were toothless.

    In honesty football is always going to be an emotive place, mainly male dominated, with drink, swearing and aggresive behaviour is common – it isnt somewhere you take children to teach them how to be haviour, paricularly in league two where “day experience” is low on the agenda. This isnt to say i wont be taking my kids to city when i one day have them, i’ll just educate them on how in some environments there will be people who dont behave correctly.

    Saturday will be immense. the away following is set to be the biggest in league two surely. Steve Evans will surely be destroyed by city fans, and deservedly so, but lets not take the focus away from bradfords good form, the chance of a good result and a successful season. why let the minority of fans take priority over the teams relative early season success.

    Come on city, smash em on the field and no one will care about steve evans or any halfwits in the crowd.

  7. I know it’s still very early in the season but this is a massive game for us, if we can beat Rotherham and back up our good start then expectation/confidence/belief will go through the roof.

    On the issue of abuse, you have to remember that not all football fans are the same. Most of the people who read this site are probably intelligent enough to realise that there is a line between banter and abuse, but not everyone will. If you walk through Bradford City Centre and listen in on peoples conversations then you will more than likely come across a lot of people who you instantly dislike or disagree with. Just because we all support the same team doesn’t mean that we all share the same values and morals, put simply, a knobhead is a knobhead whether he’s wearing a football shirt or not.

  8. I always cringe when the song “Ten German bombers gets sung”, with the same people tut tutting at secretarian songs being sung by Celtic or Rangers. I think once people get in a group they act and behave like a tribe but they would never say what they do or act like that on an individual basis. Does strange things to people football. Of course there are elements who are just deviants full stop

  9. ‘There are already regular City chants that I, personally, dislike – the Leeds-IRA nonsense for starters’

    It’s a strange one that. As offensive chants go it’s seems pretty innocuous to me. Just the one swear word and a healthy hatred of two despicable organisations. Where’s the harm in that? You’re obviously not a L***s fan so I can only assume that you’re an IRA loving republican/catholic?

    • I am neither of these things, but I fail to see what relevance there is to singing anti-IRA chants at Bradford City matches and I don’t think that people who chant it (speaking generally) really understand it either. There are many, many despicable organisations in the world, but we don’t sing songs about hating them. I just don’t see the connection.

      • You’re probably right, I too seriously doubt most of them ‘get’ the flute connection with the IRA but whether they understand it or not seems to be irrelevant. At the end of the day it’s a means to an end (having a dig at Leeds) and to be fair, I think the attempt to create a tune and sing a few words before the repetitive chant at the end shows some initiative and is to be applauded.

        As an aside, one chant that seriously does my head-in is ‘Parkinsons Bradford Army’. The surname alone makes it sound like he’s a seperate entity and not one of us. If only they could put a ‘Phil’ in there?

  10. Brian Clough had a mass of imperfections but he held one thing dear; none of his sides were abusive to referees and he fought tirelesly to rid the Forest terraces of abusive chanting ( he had no problem with fans taunting each other but drew the line at abuse, which he described as use of poor language ( mainly the C but also the F word) and specific reference to “delicate” issues, e.g Munich).
    He was mad as a box of frogs but there was something about Clough that typified what Football should be about ( and yes, I know he allegedly took bungs etc).
    I have been to most City away matches in the last two years and know exactly who the people your contributor is talking about. I share his concerns, but like him, there is no way I would identify myself; these people are morons and reason is not a concept they understand.
    I know some of their names and am prepared to release these if it would help; but cannot say if they were the same people who abused your contributor, apparently via email?
    Terrible, but not sure what the solution is.

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