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March 2021

It’s Christmas. Goodwill to all men, and a time to end the anger and prejudice

It’s Christmas, Goodwill to all men

By Tim Charlesworth (@Timc1972)

The dislike or fear of ‘the other’ is a natural instinct and none of us are immune to it.  We almost seem genetically programmed to seek out differences and set up conflict.  The tribalism of football is, of course, a fairly harmless manifestation of this human trait.  For those of us who grew up with the grunge of football hooliganism and the tragedy of Heysel it is not always easy to accept football tribalism as entirely harmless.  I know a lot of fans disagree with me about this, but I still find the ‘what do we think of Tottenham?’ chant offensive.  Its not the ‘language’ I object to, but the use of the word ‘hate’.

We live in a society that has become very intolerant of publicly expressed prejudices, and I’m not always comfortable with this.  I personally like to hear people express their prejudices.  If they don’t express themselves, how can they be challenged, how can the absurdity of those prejudices be exposed for what they are?  An Arsenal fan who dislikes black people is easily ‘cured’ by showing them a video of David Rocastle or Patrick Viera, but if they don’t express the prejudice, how do we know that we need to show them the video?

I was fortunate to grow up in a home where racial prejudice was actively discouraged by my parents.  However, children are sponges and if I had been brought up to dislike people of other races, no doubt I would have adopted that attitude.  I always feel that our job as a society is not to condemn prejudice, but to point it out, and encourage those who hold prejudices to shine the light of truth on them.  Of course it’s unreasonable to ask others to do something that you are not prepared to do yourself, so here is a personally uncomfortable piece of writing:

Despite the great example of my parents, I was still guilty of things which make me ashamed to recall.  As a young man, I routinely and unthinkingly, used the phrases ‘p**i shop’ as a synonym for ‘corner shop’ and ‘poof’ to describe those who were less than 100% committed to a tackle during a game of football.  These are words that I certainly should not have used, but they didn’t reflect any real prejudice against Pakistani or gay people.  My attitude to German people, however, was a genuinely shameful prejudice and I would like to tell you how I was cured of it.

I grew up loving football, and there was an anti-German sentiment in the game at the time that went beyond friendly rivalry.  The popular song ‘two world wars and one world cup’ does not qualify as friendly banter.  I was not short of people of German origin in my life, including some very good teachers.  I learnt German, and went on a German exchange as a child, but sadly I didn’t really get on with my exchange partner.  (In hindsight, this was probably a lot more about my character flaws than his).  My much-loved grandfathers had fought Germany in the Second World War, and my great-grandfathers had fought the First World War.  I grew up with Jewish people whose relatives had been murdered in the Nazi Holocaust.  My prejudice survived the experience of real people and even my own intellectual development.  Football was my salvation.

When he first came to Arsenal, one of the most distinctive features of Wenger’s management style was the large number of French players that he signed.  It took Arsene Wenger a long time to sign a German player.   Arsene is from Alsace, a region of France which borders Germany and which France and Germany fought over for a hundred years (one interpretation of the two great wars of the twentieth century is that they were the consequence of a protracted border disputed between France and Germany over the Alsace and Lorraine regions).  Alsace has a distinctly Germanic influence to its culture and Wenger itself is a name of Germanic origin (Arsene is a French name).  Before starting school, Arsene spoke the local Alsace patois, a derivative of German, not French.

During the Second World War, Alsace was not considered part of occupied France, but designated by the Third Reich as part of Germany (It had been given to France as part of the 1919 Versailles treaty, which the Nazis rejected).  As a result, Alsatian men were conscripted into the German army and Waffen SS in the same way as other German citizens, under the threat of murderous reprisals against their families back home in Alsace, if they didn’t fight.  Most Alsatians were deeply offended and traumatised by being forced to fight for their enemy.  The men conscripted in this way are known as the malgre-nous (against our will), and their fate remains an awkward subject in Alsace to this day.  Alphonse Wenger, Arsene’s father, was one of these men, sent to fight on the eastern front in 1944.

I was genuinely shocked when Arsene signed Jens Lehmann in the summer of 2003, and this was an act which fundamentally challenged my prejudice – it seemed to me that Arsene had much more to forgive than I did.  Jens’ contribution to the Invincibles season served only to further undermine by Germanophobia.

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But nothing influenced me so deeply as the 2006 World Cup.  The tournament (which the FA and many English people felt Germany had ‘stolen’ from them) was beautifully managed, with generous crowds and fine stadia.  The German team, managed by Klinsmann (featuring Lehmann and a group of unknown young players: Lahm, Schweinsteiger, Podolski, Mertesacker and Klose) was given little hope, but surprised everybody with a spirited run to the semi-finals where they lost 2-0 in extra time to eventual winners, Italy.  This is a rough way to lose, but instead of the widespread doom and street rioting that accompanied England’s semi-final exit from Euro ‘96, the German fans stayed on in the stadium, applauding both the Italians and their own players.  There was a spirit of friendliness and generosity in the face of disappointment, that I found hard to understand, and difficult not to admire.

And suddenly, I saw Germany for what it was.  It was a nation which had indisputably committed unspeakable crimes.  These were crimes which no words or deeds could ever apologise for.  But there are very few people in modern Germany who played any role in these events.  Must the children be forever tarred with the sins of the father?  What else could German people do in the face of this terrible heritage, other than be themselves, be kind, be generous and get on with their lives?

This was a nation which paid a terrible price for its crimes.  Seven million Germans lost their lives in World War II (less than half a million Britons suffered that fate), and the majority of German women (of all ages, including children) in the Russian occupied part of Germany were brutally and often repeatedly raped by soldiers of the Red Army.  The German nation was humiliated and parts of its territory were given to other nations.  It was then partitioned and its Eastern portion was subjected to 45 years of communist brutality.  Upon reunification, the wealthy Western Germans, without grumble, paid massive taxes in order to subsidise the rebuilding of the East, a huge transfer of wealth to people who, until recently, had been presented as their enemies.

I could no longer deny that this was a group of people who deserved my respect.  So I find myself eternally grateful to the German people for exposing the silliness of my own prejudices to me, and for showing me how foolish I was.  I am grateful too, to football, Arsene Wenger, Jens Lehmann and others for the part that they have played in making me see sense.

It strikes me that football is a general force for good in undermining prejudice of all sorts.  Arsenal never suffered as badly as many clubs from the scourge of racism, but any lingering racism that remained was surely defeated by the wonderful black players of the 1980s such as Thomas, Davis, Anderson, Rocastle and Wright.  It strikes me too, that the multiculturalism of the Premier League over the last twenty years has been a general force to drive prejudice out of our society.  Fans like to support their players, especially those that work hard for their team, and it becomes increasingly absurd to lionise a player, but reject the group that he comes from.

Prejudice is defeated, not by grand political gestures, but by a ‘death of a thousand cuts’: millions of small individual realisations that a prejudice is senseless.  Football still has a long way to go with this – the lack of openly gay players and the lack of black managers are a genuine scandal.  I suspect we will see openly gay players soon.  Homophobia would be so much harder to maintain if, say Alexis (or Harry Kane for Spurs fans, Costa for Chelsea fans etc) declared himself a gay man tomorrow.

As Christmas approaches, and the Goonersphere is polluted by anger, disappointment and frustration, my thoughts are again with the German people.  Subjected to a vile act of terrorism, when a deluded terrorist murdered 12 and maimed many others in a Christmas market, they are battling the natural human urge to lash out.  The killer is presumed to be an asylum seeker.  Street protests in Germany are (unbelievably) making it clear that asylum seekers and refugees remain welcome in Germany.

Nigel Farage said of these events: ‘Terrible news from Berlin but no surprise. Events like these will be the Merkel legacy’.  The comment is so hurtful because it has some truth to it.  Germany has been far more generous than any other nation in absorbing refugees in recent years, particularly those fleeing the tragedies of Syria.  Immigration brings immense benefits to the receiving society in the long-term, but there is no denying that the effects may not be positive in the short-term, and this may be what Germany is experiencing now.  In turbulent times, when prejudice and anger appear to be gaining ground in the Western world, how ironic and delightful it would be if it was Germany that led the world in rejecting hatred.

So this Christmas, I send goodwill to all men, including the much maligned Mesut Ozil, and all other Germans.  I admire your example, your fortitude and your collective refusal to give in to the baser human emotions.  I thank you for revealing my own stupidity to me, and I beg the fates to allow your shining beacon of hope and generosity to illuminate our world this Christmas.

Tim is the author “It’s Happened Again” (available on Amazon)

And from the History Society

11 comments to It’s Christmas. Goodwill to all men, and a time to end the anger and prejudice

  • Leon

    I’m glad you eventually accepted Germany Tim. I’d say that most Brits nowadays see Germans as our closest & most trustworthy European friends and the one nation who most genuinely regrets our decision to leave the EU.
    Too bad we don’t generate such loyalties closer to home.

  • Chris

    For a straight record

    Well, talking about refugees, the terrorist escaped from Tunisia during the Arab Spring, (not sure if he was not already in trouble/jail, I think I read that) there at the time.
    He went to Italy, caused some havoc and spent 5 years in jail, and in the end ended up doing what he did in Berlin.

    So as far as I am concerned, we are NOT talking about a refugee who was welcomed in germany, but some tunisian fellon already (nastily) present in Europe for some time.
    And whether or not Ms Merkel did what she did, he would been able to do what he did and it has no direct relation to the refugees who came into Germany and he definitely is not part of them. And this definitely is not part of Ms Merkel’s legacy, I must respectfully disagree.

    Maybe Mr Farage will soon ask for a deportation of all Scots the next time one of them is involved in a violent crime in England ? or all Welsch ?!?!

    After all the guy lied his way into Brexit, everybody knows it now, he even said he did….yet he is still listened to ?

  • WalterBroeckx

    Chris, almost the same with the terrorist that came from Belgium. Criminals who turned in to terrorists. Maybe in Europe we should pay a bit more attention to criminals who commit serious crimes and deport them after they have served their jail time? That might have saved a few people over the last 2 years….

  • SamuelAkinsolaAdebosin

    Hmmn! Thus said the Lord who is slow to anger: I am the Lord who visit the iniquities of the fathers to his children onto his 4th & 5th generation. But show my mercy to them that serve Me diligently and obey my commandment. Ah! Thank the mercifully God whose mercies endureth forever. For the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ whose birth we’ll be celebrating tomorrow has given us hopes that all our sins can be washed away, can cleanse us from all our trespasses and can have all our iniquities take away by His precious blood and body which was shed and broken for us on the Cross at Calvary to drink and eat it spiritually in holy communion. Thereby saving our lives from internal condemnation if we believe His the Lord that saves and liveth forever. And accept Him as our personal Lord and Saviour.

    Merry Christmas to all at Arsenal FC and at on Untold Arsenal. We shall by God’s grace be alive and in good health to celebrate it tomorrow and celebrate the next ones too. Amen!

  • Polo

    I would like to take this opportunity to wish everyone who read this website and their love ones a happy and a safe festive season.

    On a football note, let hope Arsenal win all their matches.

  • Mike T

    From a fervent Chelsea supporter but more important a football supporter first I wish you and yours a peaceful and enjoyable Christmas .
    Mike T

  • Florian

    A very Merry Christmas to all the Untold Gooners! May the joy of this year’s time be the catalyst for a new wave of support. And bless the poor souls who cannot understand it;)

  • Alex

    Merry xmas to all readers and writers on untold..

  • para

    “We almost seem genetically programmed to seek out differences and set up conflict.”
    Only some of us mate, only some of us!

    I don’t deal with this so called holiday in any way so i will only wish all untold readers a very happy win in our match today.

    One thing i have noticed is that a lot of predujice comes from the TV and media into peoples especially children’s minds.

    Concerning Germany, i was always a little wondering at the hate between Eng and Ger so when i was sent to Germany(Royal Signals) i was a little worried, but when i got there i was so loved by people there, that i lived there for over 20 years. I realised the hate was more one-sided. Three of my offspring are there now.

    Anyway, looking forward to a match we can all enjoy today.

  • Brickfields Gunners

    A truly fine article , Tim , thanks.
    I like to think that as we grow older , we do view things with a different and possibly , a more positive perspective .
    As we learn more we tend to shed off our old prejudices and misconceptions and adopt a more middle path. This only comes with wisdom , acceptance and the sum of our experiences .

  • Brickfields Gunners

    What’s in a name ?

    A Chinese walks into a bar in America late one night and he saw Steven Spielberg.

    As he was a great fan of his movies, he rushes over to him, and asks for his autograph.

    Instead, Spielberg gives him a slap and says, “You Chinese people bombed our Pearl Harbour, get outta here.”

    The astonished Chinese man replied, “It was not the Chinese who bombed your Pearl Harbour, it was the Japanese”.

    “Chinese, Japanese, Taiwanese, you’re all the same,” replied Spielberg.

    In return, the Chinese gives Spielberg a slap and says, “You sank the Titanic, my forefathers were on that ship.”

    Shocked, Spielberg replies, “It was the iceberg that sank the ship, not me.”

    The Chinese replies, “Iceberg, Spielberg, Carlsberg, you’re all the same.”