Nottingham Forest, Leicester City and the racism question
When I recently wrote a preview of Nottingham Forest’s FA Cup third round tie against Leicester City for the Forest site Seat Pitch, there were one or two omissions. If I had been braver, I might have mentioned the sort of chants which Leicester fans have become accustomed to hearing from their left at the City Ground over the years. For the uninitiated, Forest’s most vocal support is situated in the far right of their Main Stand. And they have often shown far right tendencies.
We have heard this week that Nottinghamshire Police received a complaint from a Leicester fan after the game regarding chants made by Forest supporters on Saturday. A video subsequently appeared on YouTube, since removed by the user, which showed Forest fans in the Main Stand singing “England, England, England” and “You used to be English, you’re not any more”. While it didn’t appear on the video, there was also a chorus of “Small town in Baghdad” during the second half from a similar number of Forest supporters. Even as someone who finds the tone of these chants offensive, the content of the video doesn’t appear to contain anything worthy of a charge but the fact we are talking about the issue is a good thing. Hopefully, we won’t have to in future as there will be nothing to discuss.
It is worth pointing out, although it should be obvious, that the people responsible for these songs have always represented a small minority of the overall attendance at the City Ground for games involving Leicester. Things have also improved rather than worsened in recent years. When I attended the league game between the two clubs last season, it occurred to me that this was the first time I hadn’t heard that old classic, the reprehensible “Town full of P***s”, directed at the away end. This didn’t get an airing on Saturday either, nor during the league meeting in August. And no, not all Leicester fans are angels either. I have heard chants about Brian Clough’s death before. I hated them too.
Of course, there will always be a broad spectrum of opinion which arises in answer to a story like this and the reaction from Forest fans on Twitter and messageboards varied enormously. Thankfully, there seemed to be a far bigger proportion of supporters willing to admit the sinister undertones of the chants even if some continue to believe they are directed at the nature of Leicester’s ownership. By the by, even if they were, which I don’t believe for a second, that doesn’t exactly quell the notion that they were racist. So what if Leicester’s owners aren’t English? And, as some have pointed out, the club’s previous owner, Milan Mandaric, is Serbian-American. He wasn’t subject to the same chants. Have Derby County’s American owners been subjected to them? The subtext is crystal clear.
When these things happen, you get one or two who make ludicrous statements. With the all-seeing glory that is the internet, we can now pick these reactions up in the space of seconds. Among those who took to Twitter without first engaging their brains included people who responded by complaining about Leicester fans throwing stones at Forest supporters (as if, as this excellent piece on the EighteenSixtyFive site points out, two wrongs cancel each other out).
There are two points I must make here from a personal perspective.
Firstly, I saw two of the morons in question hurling stones at the Forest supporters. The first bright spark’s eyes lit up when he realised the police escort taking Leicester fans back to the railway station was passing over a bridge, under which Forest fans were being held. “There’s Forest under there”, he half-shouted and half-whispered as though acknowledging that most of his fellow supporters would be ashamed of his actions. “Quick, lads! Get your coins!” With a nervous laugh, this twenty-first century troglodyte hurled a couple of pennies down onto the pavement below and his idiot mate duly threw one as well before they embraced in celebration of the possibility that they had just caused injury to a random member of the public who happens to support a football club from a neighbouring city. With that, they gleefully jogged off like a pair of teenage girls that have just seen Justin Bieber in the flesh. You could tell they wanted to jump and click their heels together as though this was the high point of their week.
Secondly, it would be hypocritical of me to criticise anyone making a remark on Twitter without thinking things through. When Forest scored their late leveller in the league meeting with Leicester in August, I referred to the “racists” equalising. I rightly received a few responses, some humorous and some abusive, all of which I deserved. It was, in fact, a chant from a couple of hundred fans in the Main Stand, the very same chant which has resulted in this week’s complaint, that had angered me so much at the time, but the real fury at the time concerned the nature of the goal (in addition to Kasper Schmeichel’s sending-off and Leicester’s second-half performance) as well as the chant. Above all, the fact that the goal had been scored by a black player summed up how ridiculous I had been.
Both of these things were clearly very wrong. You shouldn’t throw stones at anyone, not in actual terms nor from glass houses in a metaphorical sense. Supporters are proud of their football clubs and hate the idea of the club’s name being dragged through the mud in any way, even if that means allegations against a small number of their supporters, and you have to account for that when considering the reaction to an event like this.
Incidentally, the best response I have seen on this issue came from a Forest supporter on Twitter who urged his fellow fans to condemn the chants and move on. Perfect. This isn’t some tit-for-tat arrangement whereby Leicester fans are looking to piggyback on the current anti-racism agenda raised by the Suarez and Terry events. It was a complaint made by a small number of Leicester fans (perhaps just one) and the fact that so many people are talking about it is a good thing.
With the visiting Forest fans being concentrated in a much smaller area for the replay next Tuesday, any similar chants will certainly be shouted down by their own supporters. Hopefully, there won’t be any in the first place and we can enjoy the football instead. As the editor of EighteenSixtyFive points out, we start websites to talk about matters on the pitch rather than in the stands. Talking about the number of each club’s supporters present and how loud they are is mind-numbingly boring. But we can’t ignore the content and purpose of some chants. Sometimes you have to acknowledge their continuing existence, as difficult as it can be, before things improve.