I assume that, by now, everyone on the internet has seen the footage of Chelsea fans in Paris.
(if you haven’t you can see it here)
You don’t need me to tell you that this is pretty abhorrent behaviour, from some pretty abhorrent people, and that they deserve to be punished as and how the law sees fit.
But the reaction to it has been rather revealing, for a couple of reasons.
Firstly, it is amazing to see the lengths that some people will go to in order to justify being obnoxious.
A Chelsea fan went on Talksport to try to clear up what happened on the train and claimed that they weren’t singing about themselves being racist, but about their captain being racist, as if that was somehow made it better.
Behaviour like this just shows how powerful “groupthinking” is.
When you have a bunch of people together that want to see the same thing happening, such as football fans who support the same club, then in order to keep in line with everyone else, nobody complains when one of the group’s more assertive voices does something irrational, and eventually, the whole group becomes irrational.
I was in the Tollington pub before an Arsenal game, around three months after we had sold Robin van Persie. The place was packed with Arsenal fans of every colour and creed.
There were no arguments, no confrontations, nothing. Just a group of like-minded individuals enjoying a drink before a game.
Then, right at the back of the pub, three men stood up and starting singing the “She said No” song, in reference to van Persie’s arrest on suspicion of rape in 2005, a charge that was subsequently dropped.
I remember thinking to myself, “Really? Rape jokes? That’s uncalled for.” before I realised that in the few seconds I had spent recoiling over the sound of such obnoxious abuse, half the pub had joined in the chanting.
These were people, who not ten minutes beforehand, had spoken about how proud they were that their club was the epitome of class and respect, who then turned around and made jokes about something as terrible as rape.
My friend, who I’d gone to meet up with, was one of those who joined in. I asked him if he thought that this was acceptable behaviour, and he looked at me straight in the face and said it was just “banter“.
Yet, after the game, once he was away from the crowd, he apologised, saying that he didn’t know what had come over him.
It was only when he became detached from the group environment, that he became aware of his own actions.
He was mortified.
I wasn’t too proud of myself either, because even though I had called out my friend on it, he was the only person in that pub that I did that to, and even that was only because he was the one person there that I knew.
Whilst he had been trying to fit in with the group, I had been trying to avoid standing out too much.
We had both fallen into the trap of “groupthinking“.
I’m not using the above example to excuse the behaviour of those who started the incident filmed in Paris on Tuesday, but when we see something like that occur, we have to ask two key questions before negatively labelling any fanbase.
Is this a large group of fans engaging in racist abuse?
Or is it just a handful of individuals acting on their own accord whilst the group behind them joins in only because they don’t want to stand out and be targeted themselves?
If it’s the latter, then using this incident to judge a whole group of people would be grossly unfair, just as it would be grossly unfair for me to judge all Arsenal fans for what three blokes were singing about in a pub.
Are we outraged about this incident because it happened?
Or are we outraged about it because there’s video of it happening?
Are we actually concerned with ridding this behaviour from society, or have we just seen something awful and want to make sure that everybody else knows how awful we think it is?
If the aim is to rid football of racism and other abhorrent traits, then the only way it can be accomplished is if fans take it upon themselves to call out others when it happens.
It’s not like there’s no opportunity for fans to speak out on this; never before has it been so easy for a fan to make his or her thoughts be made public, thanks to social media, talk radio shows, and the plethora of online TV stations that are camped outside stadiums every week.
There’s no excuse for behaviour like this.
Not “I pay my money for a ticket, I can say what I want“.
Not “It’s only banter“.
Not “They started it first“.
These are all the standard clichés used by those unwilling to hold themselves accountable to their own actions.
The more often people operate like the person who filmed the incident in Paris did, the less these incidents will happen, because the last thing any sane person wants in their life is to be publicly shamed for their actions.
There will always be a minority who don’t care about what you think about them.
Don’t let them find a way of making you care about what they think about you.