By Tony Attwood
The activity of a group of Chelsea supporters who were in Paris in February this year for the PSG v Chelsea game, and who, on the Métro in Paris, stopped a black man from getting onto a train, were horrific. Almost as horrific is the fact that from what I understand very little has happened to them. I think they have been banned by Chelsea, which obviously is the most the club could do since they have no further legal powers, but they have faced no charges in France and it is only today that today they are in court facing charges in England.
Perhaps even more alarming is the fact that they are fighting the banning orders, and fines that could be the outcome if they are found guilty today. These orders would stop them going to football matches for five years and stop them travelling abroad when there are international games on – or (and I am presuming this because I haven’t seen it in the reports) when Chelsea are playing overseas.
If, as I had suggested to me when I was looking up this story, there is no mention of stopping them travelling overseas when Chelsea play overseas, that is problematic, although Chelsea might argue that because tickets can only be obtained from them, and passport numbers have to be given when applying for tickets, they will be able to stop this. I am not sure that such systems are very robust.
This case, in Stratford magistrates court, is in many ways an open and shut case, because of the video of the event, which took place five months ago. However because four of the five have said they will fight the case, the case has of course to be heard. I am not at all sure though why such cases have to take this long.
One of the men being charged is Richard Barklie, who is described as a “director of a human rights organisation and former police officer, from Carrickfergus, Northern Ireland”. Of the others I have no details as to their jobs or background.
The man who was racially attacked has said that he has continued to suffer as a result of the attack and the fact that his picture was on TV thereafter. He has made a statement about the affair…
“There are French Chelsea supporters in my neighbourhood who jeer at me. I’m afraid to go out. The people were identified, we know who they are, they know who they are and they know what they did. But they’re walking free, while I feel like I’m in a kind of prison. I just want a trial, I want justice to be done. What happened was serious – it wasn’t a minor issue – and if justice isn’t done, then what message does that send?”
It may be that the French trial is awaiting the outcome of the English trial. There was a French police investigation in February but now nothing more can happen until a French judge issues an international arrest warrant for the suspects to be extradited for trial. If that doesn’t happen, then it would appear that France is sending out a very negative message about its view on open racism.
And yet the statutes in France do allow for a three year prison sentence for this sort of crime.
Where we are now is a long way from the anti-racist commentaries that abounded after the event. The Daily Mirror for example said on 18 February, “Chelsea football fans who pushed a black man off a train in Paris and sang about “being racist” could be jailed for three years.
“The football world united to condemn the supporters and to call for them to be banned from matches. Appalled bosses at Chelsea FC have joined forces with police in Paris and London trying to identify the culprits.
“The video footage shows Chelsea fans stopping the man boarding the busy underground train, shoving him violently, then apparently singing: “We’re racist, we’re racist, and that’s the way we like it.”
“A schoolgirl who was on the train said that up to 60 Chelsea fans were involved, some allegedly making throat-slitting gestures at her.”
On 18 February the Express ran the story that CHELSEA fans have been accused of chanting anti-Semitic songs in Paris….
On 19 February the Mail stated that Anyone convicted of hurling racist abuse at a black man as he tried to board a Paris Metro train could face jail, French prosecutors said…
On 20 February the Daily Telegraph ran the story that French prosecutors have identified seven Chelsea supporters… but what happened to either the sixty or the seven we don’t know – and the number quickly came down to five. On the same day Chelsea FC posted on their web site the message that
Chelsea Football Club has suspended a further two people from Stamford Bridge as a result of ongoing investigations into the incident on the Paris Metro on Tuesday evening. This makes a total of five to date.
If it is deemed there is sufficient evidence of their involvement in the incident, the club will issue banning orders for life.
We are grateful to the many Chelsea supporters and others who have provided information and we request any further details are sent to firstname.lastname@example.org
And now, here we are with four men in a magistrates court seemingly pleading not guilty to a charge related to an event clearly captured on film, and just one man having admitted his guilt.
Of course I don’t want action against anyone no matter how much evidence there is, against them without a proper trial. But equally it is desperate that the issue that raised so much furore at the time seems to have vanished as an issue in France, unless, as I say, they are simply waiting for the outcome of today’s trial. We shall see in coming days.
Woolwich Arsenal: The club that changed football – Arsenal’s early years
Making the Arsenal – how the modern Arsenal was born in 1910