by Stephen Bradley

Shut up and play.

That, in essence, was the Russian FA’s response to Emmanuel Frimpong getting sent off for reacting to racial abuse coming from the home fans during a Russian Premier League game last week.

The RFU disciplinary committee also said that there was no evidence that Frimpong was racially abused during the game.

No evidence, eh? That certainly sounded like a monkey chant to me. The only way it could be interpreted as anything else would be to claim that Russia is populated with clones of Hans Moleman and that everyone was saying ‘ooo-urns’.

So why did the Russian FA act in this way? There are three possibilities, two of which are patently ridiculous;

  1. Russia is indeed populated with clones of Hans Moleman. (Think about it, if you had the technology to clone people, and Maria Sharapova was a citizen of your country…………..I’m just saying.)
  2. The Russian FA are trying to minimize the damage to their reputation ahead of hosting the World Cup in 2018 (Hands up if you think that pissing Vladimir Putin off is a good idea? Sepp Blatter has enough problems as it is without kicking that particular hornets’ nest. There is zero chance that the World Cup gets played anywhere else in 2018. Today, FIFA asked for ‘information’ in regards to Frimpong’s ban, adding that FIFA has ‘no direct responsibility for what’s happening in the Russian league’. Not exactly a stern rebuke, is it?)

So if it’s not either of those, what can it be? The answer is amazingly simple:

3.  Fans mustn’t be criticised. Ever.

The only time fans shout abuse of any kind is when they know they can get away with it. The cloak of anonymity that envelops people in a crowd can enable some of them into engaging into some of the most disgusting behaviour possible, and do so without the possibility of any rebuke.

It’s this laissez-faire attitude that encourages the singing of songs that label Arsene Wenger a paedophile, Robin van Persie a rapist, Samir Nasri a lesbian, Emmanuel Adebayor’s mother a whore, and so on. And those are just the Arsenal-related ones. Every club in the world could put together their own Spotify playlist of terrace abuse, they certainly would have enough material.

Problem

But the remarkable thing about this problem isn’t the problem itself, but the reaction to dealing with it. Every fan will say that football has a problem with the way some fans conduct themselves, but will defend their own club in the same breath. The distinction is always made clear; it’s a problem, but it’s not our problem.

Excuses are always made to explain the behaviour of fans from our own club, yet once you put a different jersey on the fans in question the reaction changes from being a defensive one to an accusatory one. When the focus is on another club’s misdemeanours we expect the book to be thrown at them. Yet if it’s our club that same focus is dismissed as a conspiracy or just blatant jealousy.

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We go to extraordinary measures to excuse our own behaviour at football games, yet we choose to chastise the same behaviour when done by others. It’s this ridiculous double standard that has the football world chasing its tail in a moral maze that has one entrance and no exits.

Footballers are hailed as role models and pillars of the community, yet are heckled and abused at every turn, and are expected to deal with such behaviour as if it were part of the job description. Imagine for a second if someone was standing behind you whilst you were at work, throwing abuse at you constantly. How long would it be before you told them to **** off?

I’d guess that the amount of time could be measured in seconds, and that I’d only need one hand to count that high.

Now add in being disciplined by your bosses for telling that person to **** off, because the person who threw abuse at you was offended at the way you treated them. Oh, and that same person gets to come back whenever they want, because they paid to watch you work. It’s an absurd premise, yet it’s one that football works on every day.

The idea that paying for a ticket to watch a football game automatically gives a fan the right to shout whatever they want at whoever they want to is asinine. Society’s rules don’t change at the moment a fan walks through a turnstile. Being at a game doesn’t give you the right to be homophobic or racist and just outright abusive.

When fans stop making excuses for their own behaviour ahead of others, only then will reactions like Frimpong’s become more commonplace, because then players will finally be able to stand up for themselves publicly instead of having to remain silent from fear of being reprimanded for a reaction that everyone else would find to be perfectly proper at the time.

As soon as fans start owning up to their own misdemeanours and stop feigning indigence when being accused of behaviour that they often accuse other clubs of being guilty of, only then the will authorities be able to deal with the issues at hand.

We’re all grown-ups now. It’s time to start acting like it.