I know this isn’t a political blog, it’s a football one but at time like this I don’t think we can completely eschew the great political events of the day.
Last Thursday I sat down with my colleagues to watch a game of football at work. Most people were supporting England, a few Wales and it was all very good natured.
No one sported their colours, no one chanted any songs (well our Welsh school secretary did join in with the Welsh anthem, and she has a lovely voice!). No one booed anyone, no one insulted anyone. We watched the game, applauded the goals, ooe’d and ahh’d and the appropriate moments and then went back to work.
But part way through the game I was checking Twitter as I do when I’m bored (and the first half was pretty tame stuff after all) and I saw the beginnings of the news about Jo Cox. Later that afternoon while listening to the radio I heard she had died and a man was in custody.
Since then we have heard he gave his name in court as ‘my name is death to traitors, freedom for Britain’. Personally I’m saddened by the senseless murder of a working mother of two who appears to have been universally respected and loved by her family, friends, constituents and by politicians on all sides. I didn’t know her and I’m not a Labour voter but it made sad and then angry.
It now emerges that the man charged with her murder (and the wounding of a pensioner who came to her aid) is associated with a far right group in this country. A group that peddles hate and calls left-wing MPs ‘traitors’ and who is campaigning for Britain to leave the EU.
The referendum is just that: a referendum, a vote to decide whether to stay or go. I have an opinion but this is not the place for me to air it. It will be a secret ballot and people must make their own minds up.
But I do think it is worth looking at the causal factors behind this attack; at the unpleasant rhetoric that has risen to the surface of the ‘debate’ (I use the term loosely) surrounding the referendum. Poison is being thrown about, lies are being told, and there is scaremongering on both sides.
Britain is descending in a polarised state where you are either ‘one of us’ or ‘one of them’. Over in France the worst excesses of misplaced patriotism and nationalism can be seen on the streets of Marseille, Lille and other towns. Songs about the second world war are met with baton charges and tear gas; Russian neo-Nazis declare that British supporters have gone soft and they are the new elite hooligans. You can blame UEFA and the French authorities if you like (and they certainly seem culpable for their mishandling of the security) but what drives these people to sing hate songs and smash people’s heads in or kick them when they are semi-conscious?
Maybe I’m a ‘woolly-liberal’ or a ‘traitor’ to my (English ) birthright but I find it disgusting and abhorrent. And I’ve have enough of it frankly. I stopped supporting the England team years ago (my turning point was a game against Turkey when the crowd in my local pub (in Northampton) started singing “10 German bombers” followed by ‘I’d rather be a P*** than a Turk’).
It’s pervasive this hate stuff. It’s easy to join in, hard to take a stand against. At the Emirates the anti-Spurs songs make regular appearances whoever we are playing. Don’t get me wrong – I don’t like Tottenham, they are our local rivals. They compete for turf with us and this year they very nearly earned the bragging rights around North London (where I live).
I don’t like Chelsea either, or United, or City all that much. Stoke don’t have a place in my heart and I am disgusted by the carryings on of Barcelona and Madrid at times.
But I don’t HATE any of them (not even Spurs). I don’t wish harm on them or their fans. I won’t use ‘y**’ to describe Tottenham fans, I won’t sing that their current manager (he is still their manager isn’t he?) has a mother who earns her living by selling sexual favours to strangers. Because it’s not funny, it’s not nice, and it promotes an atmosphere of hatred, disrespect and prejudice.
The likes of Britain First, the BNP, UKIP, Farage and even more sober Brexiteers have been stirring up prejudice and hatred for several years now and this is compounded by the pond life that has taken to Twitter and other social media outlets to spew their own bile over the internet.
If you think that casual racism, homophobia, sexism, and a binary view of life that apportions blame for your trouble on a convenient scapegoat is ok, well that’s your right I suppose, but it’s not representative of British values. We are a proud but tolerant nation that has welcomed people from all over the globe for centuries. We are democrats. We are ‘liberals’. We are open minded and we are fair minded. There is no place for the tiny minded racism and intolerance that led to Jo Cox’s murder.
And so I say, let’s make a start on claiming our country back from the bigots, from the racists, from the cretins that drink till they are senseless then fight whoever they can find. Let’s start by enjoying our rivalry with Tottenham without the abuse. By all means we can laugh at the their seasonal collapse, we can celebrate St Totteringham’s Day, we can dance in the streets when they are relegated (wishful thinking perhaps!) and we can continue to proudly sing about those ‘wheels’ and ‘that gap’.
But we don’t need to sing about hating them. We don’t need to abuse the families of their staff. Let’s grow up and realise that mud sticks, not to the target of abuse but to the senders. Hatred and prejudice are divisive (which is why those in power or who want to be in power use it – to divide the working classes and keep them divided).
Once upon a time football fans used to sit together (like the fans of Sweden and Italy did this week – without trouble). It would be nice to just support our own teams and enjoy the rivalries we have. Its a sport after all.