Our West Yorkshire neighbours Leeds United have been the subject of negative worldwide headlines after the disgusting behaviour of a section of their supporters by Sheffield Wednesday on Friday night. Through much of the subsequent debate, many Leeds fans have rightly pointed out that all clubs have their idiots (shame Leeds United seem to have more idiots than most). As if to prove the point that we at Bradford City have our own morons, Chris Herbert has this season endured the following harrowing experience.
I entered the new season of 2012/13 with renewed optimism like most City fans, eagerly anticipating what Parky could do with a free hand and a full pre-season. Having supported City since 1968, I have to be an eternal optimist!
I went to about a dozen away games last season (I now live in the South West, so Valley Parade is a rare treat these days) and in the main, have enjoyed the witty, enthusiastic support shown by the majority of City fans on their travels. In particular, the away game at Cheltenham Town brought much laughter and congrats from the Stewards and Police at Whaddon Road, who said we were the funniest and best behaved of all their away support. I felt proud to be associated with the Club!
My enthusiasm turned to shame early this season well before half time at Meadow Lane as we played so well against Notts County. The large City crowd, rightly made their feelings clear about Lee Hughes apparent rehabilitation into the football community with much (relatively) good humoured taunting. However, a tiny proportion of the City away crowd seemed intent on plumbing new depths in adding vile chanting to the mix and included a new, disgusting face to this protest which offended their own away fans to such an extent, that large numbers of them, particularly young children, were moved from their seats by their parents after liberal use of the “c” and “f “ words in close proximity to children no more than 10 years old.
I actually believe that Lee Hughes should never have been allowed back into football but given where the law currently stands, would defend his right to ply his trade (albeit with plenty of vociferous opposition) until common sense prevails and such offenders are properly punished and banished from the game .
I hoped such chanting would be just a temporary lapse, but after 20 minutes of this behaviour, determined that it was unlikely to abate and on more than 5 occasions asked stewards to intervene. Each time, they said it wasn’t their job, that the police wouldn’t do anything either, and anyway, “they are not really doing much harm”. They did eventually agree with me that the behaviour of this tiny section of the City crowd (no more than six) was totally unacceptable, but they re-iterated that they had tried to get the Police to act at other matches, but had met with a response that the Police “did not wish to get involved in dealing with this problem”.
The behaviour of this small section of the crowd became increasingly abusive and disruptive and I filmed much of it on my iPhone, but it became clear that the Police, standing less than 5 yards away, were not going to uphold the law and try to moderate these fan’s behaviour. I felt sufficiently intimidated, sitting less than 5 yards way (the thugs remained standing throughout, in a seated area) not to feel comfortable in asking the police to intervene.
After the game I wrote to all the parties involved and also contacted Jason at WOAP to comment on his apparent support for these thugs in his article following the game. I was wrong about Jason’s position here. It became apparent that after talking to Jason, we had both been issued with the same hymn sheet but had misunderstood each other’s positions. At no time was Jason or WOAP supporting these thugs actions and Jason was happy to amend his report to make WOAP’s position clear; a very welcome and considerate move. I think we are now completely aligned in condemning this minorities actions.
Unfortunately, shortly after my postings on the WOAP site, either these “supporters” or someone associated with them, got hold of my private email address and sent me the most vile, threatening and abusive emails directly, promising physical harm to me and my family. I took these threats sufficiently seriously to withdraw any further action on my part and felt seriously intimidated and frightened. I should add that there is no way that my private email address could have originated from the WOAP site. I took legal advice and took the counsel of friends and family who were close to the club whilst I considered what to do next.
Eventually, having being able to identify these idiots through the help of work associates and sympathisers, I decided to report them to the correct authorities; I can say no more about any subsequent action but believe and hope that these people will receive serious, lasting punishment for their disgusting actions.
Little did I know, that as the season progressed, this offensive chanting and an underlying “sickness” in a small minority of fans, together with Racism, Homophobia and unacceptable behaviour at Grounds (lately the LUFC “Fan’s” behaviour) would become so topical.
Here is what I put on Facebook and Twitter this week and so far it has thousands of “likes”:
“So, who is going to have the courage to stand up to these awful issues swirling around the National game? Racism, Homophobia, Offensive chanting and just plain shocking behaviour at our Football Grounds? The clue was at the Olympics/Paralympics; great athletes, great support, inclusive behaviour (although ticketing could/ should have been vastly improved!) and a great outcome; feel good factor at record highs, a proper example to our children/grandchildren and a feeling that though winning was very important, all competitors added to the great atmosphere, win or lose.
“Contrast it with football where the vile chanting and behaviour both on and off the pitch will surely choke off the attendance of future generations of support? The “Kick Racism out of Football” campaign exists on an annual budget of £300k; if Ferdinand(s), Terry, Cole et al were sincere, why not kick some more money into that route? At the same time, why not campaign to get the Politicians to take this seriously?…cross party support to properly address this issue; education, proper sanctions for the perpetrators and the fans standing up for what is right.
“If we do not act now, it really will be too late.”
I suppose my main point is this; this is too important to leave to the Football Authorities (FIFA, UEFA, PFA, LMA, Football League, Premier League etc). They all have a shocking record in addressing this issue effectively. It is not restricted to BCFC but afflicts most League Clubs. The best and most effective, positive change in football has come directly from the fans, so what can fans do to address this?
My own opinion is that the fans MUST lobby their clubs to demand a change; if the clubs work with the Police to patrol grounds, why can the Police not be asked to intervene when they hear offensive chanting?( and I don’t mean the good humoured baiting and occasional good humoured “abuse”). It is of course a matter of degree but surely common sense can dictate what is reasonable? If I made some of these comments in the local shopping mall, I am pretty sure I would be arrested. Similarly, so called witty songs about homosexuals, blacks and other minority groups should be discouraged, at the very least.
I am no saint and enjoy some of the near to the knuckle banter that appears at all grounds, and it is a matter of degree, but much of it has now become too offensive and we risk choking off the very thing that will keep the game we love alive; future support from young supporters whose parents/ grandparents will move to other increasingly competitive forms of entertainment unless the environment at League Grounds improves.
It could start with Football getting its house in order and making a statement that any footballer found guilty of, for example, drink driving, could be banned for life from football or for a serious length of time depending on circumstances. That racism really is a serious offence and carries a consistent punishment, and that we want footballing role models to behave properly or face the consequences. At the moment, Terry can be seen to have behaved appallingly, be backed up by Cole and yet both continue pretty much as before.
We are the laughing stock of other sports and are on a downward slope to oblivion…but apparently still have the best league in the world? Really?