Interesting article on the Guardian’s Sport Blog on what they perceive as a gap. 8% of the British population come from an ethnic minority (4% asian, 2% black, figures which in my view combine unlike with unlike in a most unhelpful manner) but nothing like 8% of football crowds are non-white. The comments contribute an unusual amount, especially for this particular subject.
If I discovered one thing from the years since 9/11, it’s this: although the British middle class, by and large, profess a hatred of racism, of sexism, of homophobia, of ageism now, that does not in any way stem from a dislike of discrimination per se. Discrimination is enjoyed as much as it always was – it’s just flown to a safe place, like Frodo at the end of Lord of the Rings, and survives and thrives in broad fertile land beyond the reach of race, gender and sex. And age. Whatever can’t be pinned to one of those donkeys is still grist for the mill.
I’m old enough to remember white racism before it went out of fashion. Living in Bedford, the most ethnically mixed small town in England, it was hard to miss the constant muttering about eyeties, Jews (for all that there weren’t any locally) blacks and Greeks and Chinese (who were actually Malay in origin) and Pakis. I know what it sounds like – I recognise the note, and I hear it still these days in comfortable intellectual suburbia in chat about Americans and <>. Not the same note that gets employed to talk about the French, mind, although the French still come up in conversation.
So I have some sympathy, at least, for people who argue that the white working class are always held to blame for whatever discrimination is going on. Nevertheless, I live in a white working class town (always surveyed as stockbroker belt, but the scene on the ground is quite quite different) and the suspicion/paranoia about anyone who looks different, sounds different, is enough to feel between your fingers as you walk around.
As for football, I am always apprehensive before going to a game. In London, you kind of get to go without buying a ticket, as your trains and buses fill up with fans in blue and red. It doesn’t inspire enthusiasm. Here’s one experience of my own. There have been many, many others. My general impression has been that although the amount of out and out violent behaviour has declined somewhat, the assumption that a group of fans “owns” the carriage or the bus and have carte blanche survives. It’s a decade, now, since I followed a group of Spurs supporters through Euston Underground station, they destroying every light fitting as they went, leaving the tunnel behind them blacked-out in a rare, real-life experience of genuine stygian darkness. But only three weeks since I saw an elderly couple deliberately picked on by a group of (middle-aged) fans on Putney Station for no better reason than amusement.
And the racism is still there, although a note of irony is creeping in. I travelled home in the same carriage as a gang of Chelsea supporters a couple of months ago. It was one of those carriages that Southern have fitted tall, comfortable seat-backs to, giving you a little more privacy, and we were all ducking behind these as the gang emitted racist comment after racist comment. They got off at Selhurst, and as everyone else sat up and heads began peeking out once more, you could feel the surprise ripple around as we realised that the gang had been a multi-racial one, and it had all been bizarre but nevertheless friendly banter.
But as I say, I still feel apprehensive, and wonder how I would feel were I of a different skin colour. Worse, I expect – worse enough to give up and buy a subscription to Sky Sports.