There are times when football fans provide some of the game’s greatest moments: the life saving treatment Fabrice Muamba received on the pitch at White Hart Lane was provided by a fan; the fans of Djurgården and AIK in Sweden spending the first 10 minutes of their derby match in total silence to protest against modern football; 80,000 people inside Wembley Stadium during the Women’s Gold medal final loudly and defiantly booing the then Fifa president Sepp Blatter.
However, some football fans are, and remain, guilty of some disgusting behaviour. Last week at Old Trafford during the second leg of the Round of 16 tie between Manchester United and Liverpool, ugly scenes broke out as rival supporters ripped up seats, threw punches, and lit flares. This on its own is not the greatest example of perfect fan behaviour, but what makes it worse is the fact that it followed reports of Manchester United fans singing “the Sun was right” in reference to the newspaper’s infamous headline four days after the Hillsborough disaster, and the police removing a banner hanging over the M602 in Salford with that same headline, ‘Murderers’ alongside the date of the disaster.
This is, in simple terms, absolutely, unequivocally abhorrent and unacceptable in football. This type of mindless, unsympathetic tribalistic point-scoring that certain fans in football continue to do has no place in the game, but it is important to note that this is not just a Manchester United problem; this is a football problem.
For decades after the 1958 Munich disaster which killed 23 people, Liverpool fans would chant “Munich” at Manchester United fans, and it happened again last Thursday at Old Trafford. Everton fans have been accused in the past of singing ‘always the victims, it’s never your fault’, which has been interpreted by many to be a reference to the deaths of 39 fans at Heysel Stadium after a stampede from the Liverpool end.
Fans of various clubs have been accused of singing vile, personal chants such as ‘Adebayor, Adebayor, three died in Angola, it should have been four’ in reference to the tragic loss of three people in an attack on the Togo national team bus in 2010. In Holland, fans of teams playing Ajax, a historically Jewish team, have been heard chanting ‘Hamas, Hamas, Jews to the gas’.
It is not only blindingly obvious that this sort of chanting has no place in the game, but it is also clear that Uefa and footballing governing bodies have absolutely no idea how to police or tackle these types of chants. The FA’s ‘Respect’ campaign and Uefa’s ‘No to Racism’ campaign have been running since 2008 and 2001 respectively, and yet fan behaviour has arguably gotten worse in recent seasons. It certainly cannot be said that treatment of referees has got any better since 2008.
This is not helped by Uefa’s inconsistency and unwillingness to tackle the issue of offensive chanting head-on. The Hillsborough chanting at Anfield was clearly audible on TV, yet Uefa did nothing, while following the game at Old Trafford on Thursday, Liverpool were charged for ‘illicit chants’.
Recently, Lokomotiv Moscow and Besiktas were fined a total of €56,000 for setting off fireworks and for attempting a pitch invasion, while in 2015 Lokomotiv Moscow were fined €20,000 for racist chanting, and in 2012, Danish international Nicklas Bendtner was infamously fined £80,000 for showing sponsored underwear during the European Championships.
This inconsistency in discipline, twinned with pitiful fines and an emphasis from Uefa that is seemingly more on retaining income than improving the stature of the game and the behaviour of fans, leads to only one thing: a complete lack of direction and ability to tackle the problem of fan behaviour. Until Uefa and other associations get their act together, vile chants like the ones highlighted at Old Trafford and Anfield will surely continue.
Image courtesy of West Midlands Police