Those who make the biggest fuss about abuse at games are themselves part of the problem

by Tony Attwood

England has a long tradition of abuse.  King Henry VIII was a fan; he had a bear baiting pit built in Whitehall so he could attend.  Queen Elizabeth I enjoyed it too, and when she went around the country the locals were sure to put on a bear baiting display for her.  When Parliament voted to stop it, Her Majesty intervened and overruled the government.

Children of course have long been abused in England.  It is difficult to know how else to describe the public school tradition in this country, and indeed it wasn’t until 1833 that children were stopped from working in textile factories – but it then took another nine years before children under 10 were banned from working in mines.  Although that still left 10 year olds down the pits and it seems many collieries simply ignored the ruling by lying about the children’s age.

Then, as the country cleaned up its act a little, the public turned to other arenas, and for many centuries throwing vegetables and other items at actors on stage was a favoured approach in British theatres.  It went on well into the 20th century.

So it is no surprise that with many other outlets for abuse now closed down, footballers should now be a favoured channel for abuse, seemingly exceeding even the level of abuse dished out to politicians.  I can remember that when there was snow on the terraces in winter in the 1960s people throwing snowballs at players on the pitch, with players taking the game towards the centre of the pitch to avoid being hit.  The referees just told any player who had the temerity to complain, to get on with the game.

Abuse is, seemingly, what a fair number of English (maybe British) people have always liked to engage in, so there is no surprise that people continue to abuse footballers today – with fans generally choosing to attack the opposition, although in Arsenal’s case some “supporters” regularly turn against their own players or the club’s manager.

The arrival of social media has beyond doubt made this far far worse, and so it is seemingly with much glee that the traditional media now spends pages and hours telling us how awful the behaviour of some fans is, and how dreadful the social media is and how everything should be controlled.

That is of course what the media always does.  It deflects any attention from themselves while denying fervently that they actually affect anything.  In their own eyes they are merely reporters of what goes on – a simplistic view of reality that simply doesn’t hold water.  They influence the debate by what they choose to report and the way they choose to report it.  If (as is the case) they ignore the curious behaviour of PGMO they warp that debate by refusing to engage in it.  If they refuse to discuss the possibility that they might run more negative stories about Arsenal than any other team, they again influence the debate.

The reality is that when abusers at football matches see their antics reflected as headline news in the media, they go on doing it more and more.  This used to be the case with crowd physical violence at matches, but then the media stopped filming it, and unsurprisingly the level of crowd violence reduced.  The same would probably happen if the media chose not to report abusive behaviour by supporters.

However this is not the whole situation.  We all know that 95% of what the mainstream media reports about football is untrue – our chart of the imaginary transfer stories each summer shows that to be so.  We also know from our own analyses on this site how the mainstream reporting of matches is warped.  (See the 160 games analysis for example).  And of course the media along with fans can re-write history too (the story of 100 years in the first division gives some examples).

Arsenal fans also have a long history of attacking the club’s players – as we have reported many times even in the days of Herbert Chapman this was a problem, and he labelled them “the boo-boys”.

So we have racial and other abuse hurled at players by fans, and the media makes a big fuss, and blames everyone… except themselves.  

The media are not solely to blame, of course, but they have to take some responsibility.  The footballing media in this country could be a force for good, but they regularly publish such arrant nonsense about football, and their reporting is so obviously biased (not just in the way that they handle certain issues, but in their abject refusal to mention other topics which are of concern to some supporters) that the credibility of the media is now zero.

They are now ignored and by-passed by huge numbers of fans who have seen how removed from their world the media is.   So all the condemnations by Radio 5, the daily papers and the blogs are meaningless.  Having footballers and phone-in commentators condemning the abuse achieves nothing except the giving of more and more publicity to the abusers, who then feel more and more important (and why not – they are national news) and so they go further and further.

Abuse can be stopped, just as physical violence in grounds was stopped, but it needs the same tactics as was used to sort out physical violence.   The wholesale reporting of the events stops, while the clubs and the police move in and deal with in a much more determined way.

Clearly Facebook, Twitter and YouTube spread the problem, and the government’s approach to them is woeful. Recently YouTube revealed it has disabled 210 channels that “behaved in a coordinated manner while uploading videos related to the ongoing protests in Hong Kong.”   So it can be done.  Our government just needs to start fining them £100,000 a day for each channel that distributes anything that is illegal under UK law.

But as long as the media keep moaning that they are just reporting a problem rather than being a part of the problem, that move against Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and others won’t happen.  Which is why I continue to suggest that the media is part of the problem not part of the solution.


8 Replies to “Those who make the biggest fuss about abuse at games are themselves part of the problem”

  1. A very brave post, thanks.
    Nobody likes someone even disagreeing with one inline.If someone calls me a stupid four eyed idiot,I might be a bit upset,but that’s not really what I call abuse.
    Mind you football fans are so nasty.
    It’s why I don’t go to premier league games anymore.I go to my local league one club and sometimes non league.
    Mind you the Emirates isn’t the worst.In 2008 I went to Stamford Bridge with my then 16 year, the sheer nastiness and foul language was shocking.Our seats cost about £65 but what disgusting behaviour, from adults too.
    These people would have been bear baiting,in mediaeval times !

  2. I think you have to clarify what you consider to be ‘abuse’.

    Take Özil for example. He’s come in for a lot of criticism across the board–from fans, pundits and journos.

    Personally, I think most of it is justified. I’m very disappointed with him – especially when you take into account his wage. He’s had some good spells, but overall he hasn’t delivered.

    Like some pundits and journos I’ve expressed discontent with his performances and used the words, ‘poor’, ‘lazy’, and’uncommitted’.

    Is that ‘abuse’? Am I an’abuser’? Should I feel guilty about expressing unhappiness over a footballer who earns approximately £350,000 a week?

    If you think that is indeed the case, then I’m not sure there’s much mileage in waging a campaign to stamp it out. That kind of ‘abuse’is part of football.
    Criticising and generally moaning about players is something all fans of all clubs do nearly all of the time.

    Psychologically speaking, it is baffling and somewhat masochistic.

    That’s football though.

  3. Whilst it is tempting to join the do gooders and stop all abuse at football games, I must point out the wonderful humour with which a lot is said.

    Racism that is hurtful has no place in society but comedy has had a level of racism that some find offensive while others accept it as humour.

    When life becomes wholly ‘good’ and mischief is no longer part of it I hope our privacy is not robbed with it.

  4. @Alewanderhenry. The problem is that Özil is ALWAYS shown under a negative light. He is not alone on the pitch, he doesn’t put on the tactics. But when he is good or very good or decisive for our team whose attack is less effective when he is not in, NOBODY mentions it. He was very good for the Arsenal – Valencia, defensively and offensively and NOBODY mentioned his input! He was very good against Real, Barca and Bayern during the pre season and NOBODY mentioned it. Because he has a good salary and so all is normal?
    This is the problem. For 6 years the media and then the fans have told he’s crap, so after 6 years of brain washing, then yes, ok, you see only that he is crap and never the opposite.

  5. Mouise

    Well said.

    I’m not sitting here saying he is Messi or Ronaldo but he is vastly under rated. Now I’m the first to admit he doesn’t contribute a great deal defensively but in truth is that what we have him in the team for?

    No, we have him in the team to unlock defences and in that respect he does very well.

    To make my point I thought I’d show how he compares with former favourite, and player greatly lamented for his departure, Aaron Ramsey.

    These are their attacking stats.


    Ozil 0.19



    Ozil 0.31
    Ramsey 0.17

    OZIL WINS (with almost double the amount and surely that’s what he’s primarily in the team for)


    Ozil 4
    Ramsey 1



    Ozil 45%
    Ramsey 34%



    Ozil 25
    Ramsey 36




    Ozil 62.35
    Ramsey 50.42



    Ozil 0.38
    Ramsey 0.18

    OZIL WINS (with over double the amount, again surely that is what he is in the side for)


    Now when it comes to defence it’s a different story. Ramsey is by far the better defender.

    By coincidence their win percentage is identical at 57% each.

    So okay maybe this does suggest that he’s not the greatest asset when it comes to defending but that’s not what he’s in the side for. We are supposed to have other players for those duties.

    But what those stats also show is what a fantastic asset he is for our attack.

    Now if you think those stats make him ‘poor’ and ‘uncommitted’ that’s up to you, but personally I think that is extremely harsh.

    I think we are nearly always better with him in the side than out of it, especially when playing the type of 11 men behind the ball opponents we so often have to face.

    The problem is, as you say, the relentless negativity seeps into the psyche. His good days, of which he has many as the statistics prove, are past over as irrelevant, where as his off days, which of course he has, are shouted from the rooftops.

    In summary, surely those stats show that yes, he could do more defensively, but as I asked at the beginning, is that what we really want from him, but offensively he is an exceptional and vital asset and totally undeserving of the endless critisism he receives.

  6. Mouise and Nitram

    It’s nice to read a clear-eyed appraisal of Ozil. This is a player who was German Footballer of the Year three years running, a World Cup winner on a side where the ball went through him as well as the player Cristiano Ronaldo said “bringing in Bale is OK but why did they let Ozil go? I went from 30 goals a season to 50 with him.” The German National Team and Real Madrid team understood what Ozil did well and utilised that in their tactics. No, he won’t chase down a ball all that often but if you give him the ball by design good things will happen. Mouise, as you pointed out he played well in the preseason, both ways. As I’ve written here, I attended the match versus Real Madrid in Washington, D.C. He tracked back, had a couple of takeaways and made insightful passes but the game did not go through him. Often he was in space and didn’t receive the ball. He played clever give and go’s and the ball wasn’t returned. That’s on the manager/coach. He needs the ball to be effective. The naysayers will say ‘then he should go and get it like a proper footballer’, whatever that means. He has a special skill set. If the manager/coach doesn’t value it then they should have moved him on because his wage packet is substantial.

    In addition, there’s lack of creativity in the play so far this season. A player like Ozil can add to that but it doesn’t look like Emery wants to play that way. A sorry situation if you ask me. He certainly should have more touches than Xhaka et al. But, as the banner says, I’m supporting the club, the manager, the team AND this player. I’ve stated before that the side is better with Mesut Ozil in it and I still feel that way. COYG!

  7. goonersince72

    As you suggest, how you use him is the key.

    Putting it bluntly, if our game plan isn’t set up to ‘go through him’ then he really will become peripheral figure.

    Without the ball he can actually become a liability.

    As you suggest gooner, the answer to that though is very simple.


    But if Emery can’t see a way to utilise our most creative player he really should of moved him on.

  8. What a great post. The historical bear-baiting context makes this even more thought-provoking.

    Menace made a comment that I somewhat agree with – there is a difference between abuse and good humour. And yes, we shouldn’t rob people of the freedom to express themselves…

    …but racism robs it’s targets of their basic human dignity. It strips away the feeling that they belong in society the same as everyone else, so we need to consider that as well as our freeedom of expression.

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