Monday 7 September 2009

Good taste in chanting? Never going to happen.

The recent success of the informal campaign to bring the deeply unpleasant nature of Man United's fans chanting against Arsene Wenger to the wider attention of the public is to be applauded. Led by Arseblogger, the issue made it to the wider press last week, at long last, and led to widespread condemnation against Man United, and also against Amazon and Play whose website carried a CD including a no-doubt charming rendition of the "Sit Down You Peadophile" chant.

The sustained level of abuse directed at Wenger by United fans for singing that chant for around the last 10 years probably puts the incident in a minority of cases. Wenger is in that unusual position, along with Ferguson, of having enjoyed a long career in the Premierleague. Whereas the same cannot (yet) be said of Phil Brown.

However, I have no doubt that Phil Brown, given his nature, will also be subjected to regular abuse by opponents fans. But is that abuse as "appalling" as the abuse given to Wenger? Maybe it is? Maybe not. I guess it will depend on what is said. But I think the question poses something of a problem for those who want to see anything wider done by the FA, or even the Police, about the treatment that United fans give Wenger.

The Man United chant against Wenger is factually incorrect and rude to an extreme degree. It is abusive chanting in the proper sense of the word "abuse". However, it is not racist, homophobic, sexist or any of the other trigger events that get the police interested under discrimination or race relations legislation.

Instead, the police have to look at the Football (Offences) Act 1991, section 3 of which makes it an offence to:

"(1) ......engage or take part in chanting of an indecent or racialist nature at a designated football match.
(2) For this purpose—
(a) “chanting” means the repeated uttering of any words or sounds [(whether alone or in concert with one or more others)] ; and
(b) “of a racialist nature” means consisting of or including matter which is threatening, abusive or insulting to a person by reason of his colour, race, nationality (including citizenship) or ethnic or national origins."

Now, whilst the Police were able to prosecute several Spurs fans for racist chanting against Sol Campbell last season, the Man United chant could only fall within the area of "indecent chanting".

Its a typically vague and somehow appropriately English notion to describe the offence as "indecency", which is a subjective test and hard to quantify.

However, I am sure that there are chants at the Emirates almost every match which could be described as "indecent" - it perhaps depends on your expectations of the atmosphere, your sense of humour and the thickness of your skin. I also say this against the background that the general level of Arsenal fans behaviour is impeccable compared to most other grounds.

However, there can be no doubt that chants occur at the Emirates that are offensive towards Jews, for instance, which would also potentially fall within the racist or indecent offense chanting described above.

Now, my question is, what are we to do about that? And where should we draw the line?

Clearly, you cannot defend anti-Jewish chanting. It is abusive and I would urge all Arsenal fans not to join in and to do their best to stamp it out. However, to take a slightly more extreme example at the other end of the sclale of what I am talking about, there are quite a lot of people who really don't like referees. I mean, really, really, don't like referees, to the extent that 99% of the time the referee is a disgrace for not having perfect vision and getting every decision correct. And those sorts of people call the referee lots of very naughty and offensive words, as loudly and as often as they can.

Now, if you are going to be puritan about it, chanting that Graham Poll is a fucking arsehole over and over again is clearly offensive and possibly indecent. It may also be factually incorrect.

Similarly, the repetitive suggestion that Scousers are all jobless scroungers who should sign on the dole, with a pen, in their hand, might be thought as being less offensive, and probably not indecent, but gets closer to an insult by reason of someone's origin. And we all know how much Scousers like to whinge (just ask Boris Johnson).

So its not inconceivable that Arsenal fans could end up in the dock for signing the Spurs chants (and rightly so). But the charmers at the FA could also lead a campaign to punish any fans who chant offense about the ref, which is an entirely different prospect. Or the whinge-ridden scousers could use the Wenger situation as a platform for their own campaign to clampdown on the "sign-on" chant.

And if that sounds unbelievable, then the recent experiences of the Eduardo 'divegate' scandal should show that anyone who has expectations of universal fairness and consistency within the system will be sorely disappointed.

I guess the point is that if the United chant was an isolated incident, its hard to say the Man United chant against Wenger goes beyond what might be expected at a football match. What makes it different, in my book, was its sustained nature over many years and it was great news that something will be done about it. But its not easy to see where the lines should be drawn for "indecent" chanting and these things might well be better dealt with along these informal lines, using pressure via the media, rather than police involvement.


K man said...

Good blog. My view:

Anti-jew chanting - NO

Graham Poll is an arsehole - YES

Gooner said...

Please correct me if im wrong but didn't Steven Gerrard dive in a champions league group stage against Ath Marid and also Ryan Babel against Arsenal yet again in the Champions League?

How do they justify that??

Anonymous said...

I hear that Arsenal is going to set up a text service so that people can snitch on others who are chanting racist stuff etc.

Obsinho said...

The text service exists already and I think we copied it from another premiership club.

The chanting thing is fairly un-policeable as you point out. It has existed as long as there have been stadiums and beer and people to drink the beer and go to the stadiums.

As long as action is taken when the "public" feel the mark has been overstepped (the text services are a good idea) then I think there is no need to go further. The media reaction to the Wenger chants was belated, and I believe driven from sympathy in the media to the manner in which he conducted himself during and after the sending to the stands.

Also, I hate international football.

Ted said...

Yes. good point Obs. There is something of a media sympathy vote for Wenger about this, especially coming after the Eduardo diving issue and the fiasco of his sending off.

I fucking hope Eduardo scores a hat-trick tomorrow.

libero said...

Interesting piece. I think there's a very fine line and the last thing we would want is those filthy Murderers (or maybe i'm not allowed to call them that....) trying to get the 'Sign On' song banned!

The Wenger song is disgusting, as is the Lamps' Mum song. I find the White Hart Lane foreskin song quite amusing but the Auschwitz song horrific. As you say, it's all a matter of personal opinion and any kind of police crackdown risks both making the banned songs more exciting by the very fact that they're not allowed and banning things that are relatively harmless.

I reckon leave things as they are. Football songs have a habit of changing with the times anyway. Songs which entire terraces used to sing about black players in the 80s are almost never heard these days outside the confines of the New Den. The same is true, to an extent, with songs about gays. At Chelsea almost nobody does the 'gas chamber hiss' when we play Tottenham. As society becomes more tolerant so there is a knock-on effect on what we hear at the Emirates and the Bridge.

I'd also be very wary about doing anything to make the 21st Century football experience any more neutered and anesthetic than it already is. I might hate the fact that our fans sing songs about Jews failing to buy pints but I'd rather that than sit in silence, politely applauding like we're a bunch of rugger buggers at Twickenham.

Ted said...

I also remember someone of about the same size and stature of 1979 once explaining that calling someone a Polish cunt is not racist if the person in question was born in Poland, and was a cunt.

Which, I think, is fair enough.

marcus said...

Just to add what I think is an important point to this discussion: it is notable that Arsenal FC made an official complaint to Amazon about the chant, arguing that it is defamatory. That is what convinced Amazon to act, not the fans complaints. Amazon were worried about any legal action from Arsenal.

Uncle Mike said...

Well, speaking as someone of both Polish AND Jewish descent -- and who, were his contemporaries natives of England, would probably have spent the better part of his childhood being called a cunt and an arsehole, instead of a retard and an asshole...

I'm not comfortable with calling Spurs fans "Yiddos," even if they do sort of embrace the term. And come to think of it, isn't Arsenal semi-boss David Dein Jewish?

The "Ten Men Went to Bed With Ashley" song bothers me, partly because it's (probably) not true -- besides which, we have other things with which to smack Cashley -- and partly because I have a 2-year-old niece named Ashley. I'm well aware that there are names considered masculine in Britain but feminine in America, and that Ashley is thus joined by Leslie, Beverly, Lynn, and a few others. But I'd much rather think about my niece kicking a ball around the backyard than Ashley Cole doing anything. (Besides, she spits up less now.)

Then, of course, there's the Roy Keane song, to "Blue Moon": "Keano! He wanks his dog, Keano!"

Where do you draw the line? Is "Scouser" or "Manc" automatically an insult? When Newcastle fans or anyone else want to insult Sunderlanders, is "Mackem" or even "Dirty Mackem" okay but "Dirty Monkey Mackem" not? Is the M6 the difference between "Southern Shite" and "Dirty Northern Bastards"? How far can you go?

I guess the old U.S. sports standard applies: As long as you don't get caught. It may not be right, but it looks like that's the way it is, until someone decides that it must no longer be so.

1979gooner said...

good blog

i think the words were morelike 'diving turkish wanker'

however the person who objected to this was indeed polish and considerably shorter in stature than my mighty self

clearly it's hard to draw the line,

but the cole chants are out of order, as are any jewish ones,

graham poll an arsehole- clearly not acceptable karish

he's a cunt

Fred said...

Great post. I agree with you 100%