There is an out-dated self-fulfilling stereotype that is blighting the beautiful game. It is the sort of stereotype that is so damaging that in other walks of life it would have been tagged “discriminatory” and yet is accepted for football fans. This stereotype is that football fans are racist, homophobic, violent and irrational. Take a step back and think about just how short-sighted this is.
Let’s be clear, some football fans are disproportionately racist, homophobic and violent in relation to the wider British population; although this is a dying phenomenon. Some football fans still do cause violence, shout abuse at each other and vandalise their surroundings. This is very different however, from saying that football fans are these things. This prejudice materialises in a number of ways. For example it is not just an internal prejudice that people hold, it affects our everyday lives. If you are wearing football colours it is common to be banned from pubs. Banned! Literally not allowed to enter because you support a game! Let’s now make a massively controversial and yet interesting comparison.
Black men, are disproportionately responsible for violent crime (two-thirds of shooting, over half of armed robberies) and yet, no civilised human being would still think that Black people are violent. There is no bar manager who would deny a Black man entry to a bar purely because of what he looks like. Sadly, I believe that people still hold irrational fears based on inbuilt racism, but it has become socially unacceptable for anyone to express these prejudices. This public consciousness is not so apparent when it comes to football fans. Not only do people believe football fans are all these things but it is OK to be openly prejudice against them.
Football fans in the UK are a very different phenomenon to the firm violence of the 1980’s and 1990’s. There is still football hooliganism. The difference is that they no longer hold wide-spread support amongst football supporters. The violence is no longer seen as a source of pride. If you hear racist abuse in the stands today it is looked down on. Indeed, this is slowly becoming true around homophobic chanting as well. The sad thing here, is that football followed society rather than led it.
I find it really disappointing when supporter groups like the Bristol City Supporters Trust have to put out video’s like the one at the start of this blog to point out the obvious. Football supporters are cross generational, cross class, cross ethnicity and overwhelmingly peaceful. There is only a minority that are interested in violence.
When a football club proposes to build a stadium on your doorstep, you are right to be worried. It will strain your transport infrastructure every other Saturday, noise levels will rise for a couple of hours a every other Saturday and you might (if you are unlucky) experience football related to violence. These problems however are often over stated, and the benefits football can bring to the community, local business and to individuals are often underplayed.
To mention a few potential benefits (the list is too long for this post but please do read this report by “Supporters Direct”):
- Community outreach – Clubs nearly always have staff and money to invest into local schools and community centres.
- Community cohesion – when you are on a football pitch or in the stand, normal societal divisions loose their significance (as I said football is cross class, cross ethnicity and cross culture).
- Facilities – Often the facilities of clubs can be used by local teams, the rooms for evening education classes or the restaurant bar area for events.
- Business opportunities – having a successful football club acts as an economic magnet for further investment in the area, from restaurants and pubs through to schools and transport.
- “Soft benefits” – these are ones you cannot quantify, the friendships, the civic pride, the social cohesion that football can have.
These benefits are not a given. Not all clubs benefit their communities as much as others. The Supporters direct report makes recommendations on how to bring about the best practice to increase the “social benefit” of football clubs. A case lesson to learn is that it needs community involvement. That means me and you going along and getting involved!
I still maintain that there is no force in the world more powerful than football to bring about change. If we marginalise football (we don’t want a stadium near us), if we give only bad press, and if we continue to paint fans in out-dated firm colours then we will continue to leave this force to be moulded by regressive social movements. It appears that the BNP understand the significance, but sadly other political movements seem to shy away from engaging. It is up to us, as citizens to engage with our local clubs to bring about the sort of relationship we want to see.