Sporting Rivalry & Racist Comments
I got into a slightly heated Twitter exchange this afternoon after responding to @conorpope’s tweet to @BevaniteEllie’s statement that she was visiting Burnley. It simply said – “You’re in Burnley ? I hope you’ve had your jabs.”
I took some offence at this – although from the very first I know full well that @Conorpope is no racist – I’ve followed him on Twitter for some time, and guessed that the likelihood was that this comment was in connection with some rivalry between Burnley and some other local town – quite possibly Blackburn, or Bolton. (and it later transpired that this was indeed a comment relating to Blackburn Rovers rivalry with Burnley)
It bothered me though that a town in Lancashire – well known for it’s Asian population, was inadvertently being compared to a country, where one would be likely to need injections before travelling to. Perhaps Pakistan or India
Was I over reacting ? – maybe – but it wasn’t by accident -
I’d just like to relate a couple of anecdotes to give you a clue as to why it bothered me – both relate to me personally, and to sporting rivalry in the North of England – so are roughly analogous to this situation :
The first is about my memories of supporting Bradford Northern Rugby League team (now Bradford Bulls) throughout the 70′s and early 80′s – Our biggest rivals were Leeds, now the Rhinos.
There was a popular “joke” amongst Leeds fans. This was that Bradford was “over run” by Asian immigrants, to the extent that it was really a foreign country, and that all or most of it’s inhabitants were Asian.
Similarly there was a “joke” amongst Northern supporters that Leeds was actually a Jewish enclave within the UK, and that all Leeds supporters were Jewish
At the games between the two teams the two sets of fans would amuse themselves by hurling racial abuse at each other despite the fact that almost all of the supporters for both teams, were white, vaguely Christian, working class people.
Many’s the time when I’ve walked through a crowd of Leeds RL supporters, wearing my Northern scarf whilst they shouted things like “You black Bastard !” or “Acky Acky Acky – I can smell a Paki !” (I’m white and English)
I’ve also been in the middle of crowds chanting “Four by, Four by, Four by two, Four by two, Four by two” at passing Leeds supporters (four by two = Rhyming Slang for “Jew”) and shouted out “hilarious” comments about them having had the ends of their penises cut off.
If anyone was going shopping to Bradford in those days, a typical response might be “Hope you’ve got your passport !”
Less commonly you’d be told to be careful in Leeds if you went to the toilet – “they’ll have you circumcised as soon as look at you !”
It was all done in friendly banter, good humoured, and actually some of it was genuinely very funny.
Make no mistake though, it was very very racist. I’m very glad it stopped as well.
But before you start accusing me of getting on my high horse – I can assure you that I was an active part of that mob yelling anti-semitic chants – my voice was as loud as anyone’s, and I didn’t need much encouragement. Nor did I see it at odds with my activity with groups like Rock Against Racism or the Anti-Nazi League
Looking back though I’m embarrassed about my behaviour then – it was childish, it was racist, and I’d prefer not to have done it. I hope I didn’t cause offence to anyone (although I WAS deliberately trying to offend Leeds supporters).
Rugby League wasn’t my main sport though – football was, and I’ve been a lifelong supporter of Huddersfield Town. Our key rivals are Leeds United. There were often racist chants in the early 70′s – I’m happy to say that I didn’t get drawn in to them – the racism was far more overt than the teasing at the rugby matches.
One of the worst went like this : (to tune of Oh when the Saints)
“The Bradford End. Is always full.
The Bradford End is always full
FULL OF WHAT ?
Full of wogs full of niggers, full of pakis !
The Bradford End is always full”
Nasty eh ? I never sang it, but lots did. It would have been a brave man that told them not to. I wasn’t that brave.
Many of those who sang it (and some of them were black) justified it on the grounds that it was making fun of Bradford, that everyone knew that most City fans were white, and it was obviously a joke. It wasn’t racist. Anyone who objected needed to get a sense of humour (Where have I heard that today ?)
But I didn’t resort to chanting it. What I did do though, like many Huddersfield supporters, was fall into another habit : That of never referring to rivals Leeds United by name. In writing it would be either L**ds or L666ds.
In spoken words it would simply be “Yids”
Why ? Well the derivation is the same as that at the rugby league games in Bradford. Leeds has a significant Jewish population, and several Jewish businessman have been involved with the club. Notably Manny Cussins.
The rest of it was just spite really. Spite and racism – not that any of us had anything against Jews – it was just a nasty name which could just as easily apply to Leeds supporters.
Several years later, long after I had thankfully grown out of all this obnoxious racist rubbish (for which I feel some guilt, but mainly acute embarrassment) I became a contributor to various on-line supporters forums for Huddersfield Town.
Now these email lists and discussion groups have evolved a code of ethics. Top of the list is this : NO RACIST COMMENTS !
And usually there are none. However it became apparent that several younger fans were still using the word “Yids” to refer to Leeds. They were quickly taken to task, and threatened with expulsion by the other members, and by list owners
Most of them were bewildered – they had no idea that “Yid” was an abusive word for Jew. They simply thought that “Yids” was a deliberate mispronunciation of “Leeds”, and whilst they had no intention of offending Jews, they had every intention of offending Leeds (which is of course within the code of conduct).
This felt uncomfortable to me. I’d never intended to offend people of any race – but I realised over the years that I’d said some really quite unacceptable things, and stood by and done nothing while others showed totally nasty racist behaviour.
As a result I’ve grown into someone who has a sharp eye for comments that could be construed as racist. Some might say I’m hypersensitive – I prefer to think that I have a highly tuned awareness. If I spot racist remarks, in whatever arena, I tend to speak up and say that I don’t like it. That’s not to say that I am particularly judgemental of the people who make the comments – very few of them are intentionally racist – and as I’ve related I’ve been as guilty as anyone of doing this in the past. It doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter though – I really think that it does.
So all those people who want me to stop being hypersensitive, to get a sense of humour and so on. Well I’m sorry I won’t be changing.
I have incidentally had discussions via Direct Messages with @conorpope since this afternoon, which show that he’s definitely not a racist, and that he does understand my position – it’s not a problem for either of us – despite some people who seem to be rather hoping that it was.
Sorry to disappoint.
@conorpope contributes to the excellent Political Scrap Book blog by the way – which today carries a blog on a far more interesting “race row” “Bring back slavery” row returns to haunt Conservative Future candidate Craig Cox | Political Scrapbook