Should following Swindon Town be for everyone?

Following Swindon Town regularly away this year Joe Young has become more and more disgruntled with the behaviour of a small minority of fans…

Football has come a very long way in my lifetime, but recently I’ve realised just how far it has still to go. Overt racism may have disappeared, but just below the surface lies a torrent of sexism and homophobia that has no place in the modern game or society.

At Fleetwood on Saturday my heart sank when I saw a female referee’s assistant run to award the away end shortly before kick-off. I had no concerns regarding her ability to officiate, but I just knew some unpleasant sexism was about to follow. The slow recognition of the Town faithful moved quickly to the rather predictable “Get yer tits out for the lads…” chant. I don’t know what I found more tragic, the song itself, or the moronic reaction that followed. For some, this appeared to be the funniest thing they’d ever heard. If you are old enough to remember Wayne Slob laughing at the word “Willy” or “Bottom” in Harry Enfield and Chums you’ve pretty much found the level.

If it had stayed at “Get yer tits out,” I would probably have let it go, but far worse was to follow. The assistant had a pretty good game. I can’t remember any obvious errors but every decision against Swindon was met with not just the typical derision of football fans but sexually offensive rubbish – “Why’s she not in the kitchen?” howled one fan. “Should be out shopping!” yelled another. The nadir swiftly followed with some suggestive comment about what one particularly inarticulate fan was proposing to do to her later that night.

Now I’m no angel of a football fan. I readily admit to past behaviour including singing songs about incestuous fornication in the Beauchamp household, and swearing too much and too frequently, but when a rendition of “You’re just a see you next Tuesday with a whistle..” away to my left brought relief to my ears you know something is wrong.

But it was worse than just sexism. Listening to this barrage of misogynistic hate mongering made me pay closer attention to precise nature of any abuse the referee was getting. It was just as bad, if less immediately obvious. The first “mistake” he made got him labelled a “Pansy”, the second a “Poofter”.

The crowd around me appeared to have no means to express disdain without resorting to base homophobic or sexist abuse. I encountered the same thing at Notts County. What does that say about our club?

At half time it was immediately clear to me that without my lifelong passion for Swindon Town I’d have just left. I’m not sure what it says about me that some tribal instinct of belonging towards a football team kept me there. You can guarantee if I was a new supporter that I would have just walked away to the delights of Blackpool… (Now that really is a depressing thought.)

I don’t even believe that most of the people believed what they were saying. This almost makes it worse. Town fans can be highly original and incredibly funny. I just think back to Sheffield United last season and the “Number 1 is in defence and number 2 is in defence…” song – all the way up to number 11 and “All we want is a f…ing shot on goal!” We can be witty, we can be original, why then do we’ve have to default to such degrading unpleasantness?

By now some of you will have no doubt written me off as some out of touch lefty-liberal espousing politically correct gone mad nonsense. I’ll probably also be accused of being so focused on ensuring that everyone has to think like me that I want to curtail people’s right of free speech.

That couldn’t be further from the truth. What I do not want is my football club associated with offensive behaviour that goes against moral decency. Offensive behaviour that makes some people feel they don’t belong. Offensive behaviour that prevents people falling in love with Swindon Town FC. I don’t really care if you’re a misogynistic homophobic lard bucket, just please don’t feel the need to expose everyone else to your beliefs in the name of our club. Have the courage to say these things at a different time, in a forum when you can be challenged.

This stuff isn’t new to me. I live in Rotherham and I used to go to watch them reasonably regularly. Some of my family support them, it was something to do – and I do love live football. At Rotherham I encountered worse. I encountered explicit racism on three separate occasions. I’ve not been since.

And this is my point. Why on earth should Trust STFC go to such lengths to encourage a new generation of fans to attend football if the behaviour and actions of the mindless vocal minority are going to scare them away? Few, if any parents, will want to expose their children to the sort of environment I encountered on Saturday. We need fans, we need new fans. Perhaps people could think before they yell out outdated comments they probably don’t believe.

The tremendous atmosphere following Louis Thompson’s equaliser almost brought about redemption. To be caught up in a surge of euphoria and genuine emotion was fantastic. That sort of stuff hooks people for life. I can only hope that on Saturday I was particularly unlucky with where I chose to stand. After a quick glance around the away terrace all I could see was a sea of young to middle aged white males. I wonder why.

There’s a comment box below…

Header image from http://attackingsoccer.com/

29 comments

  • Great article. The female lino on Saturday had a great game especially compared to the appalling lino on the otherside.

    The atmosphere was a touch weird on Saturday I am guessing you were near the entrance end to our stand as I personally noticed there seemed a worse atmosphere at that end near the toilets than the other end near the dg out side which seemed more family based.

    Hopefully this was a poor showing from some frustrated fans.

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  • Brilliant article! I remember when we played Yeovil a few years back, there was a Sikh ref, and some idiot kept calling him ‘Bin Laden’. I think because footie is still predominantly white and male, some find it a ‘safe’ place to spout crap they otherwise wouldn’t.

    I read recently about the anti-sexist/homophobic/racist fans of Dulwich Hamlet fc in London. Noisy too! Made me wish we had something like that at the CG!

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    • Ha! I didn’t see your reply when I cited Dulwich Hamlet in my reply Jon. Would love to see some of that ethos taken up by league clubs, it’s really a special atmosphere down there. I’ve taken fellow fans of league clubs and men and women who’ve never been regular football fans down there since I started going. All, without exception, have loved it and returned. Had I instead exposed them to what Joe describes above, I suspect many would never have set foot in a game again

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  • Fantastic article and thanks for the submission to us Joe. I must admit to not attending an away game for sometime so can’t really comment on the issues raised in that context.

    As for games at the County Ground, being sat in the pipe smoking and slipper wearing (including the ladies) section of the Arkells Stand I haven’t encountered abuse for a while. It must’ve been in 2011/12 the last time that I can recall any homophobic / sexist / racist abuse being directed at players or officials or fellow supporters. Thankfully the offending chap, who attended every game with his child (approx 8-10yrs) who I’m sorry to say started to copy his dad (poor kid), hasn’t been back I believe after complaints were made to the club about his continuous behaviour.

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  • Very good article.

    I am married to Swindon for life but my footballing ‘bit on the side’ is my local non league team Dulwich Hamlet.

    The fans there have a zero tolerance approach to anything sexiest, homophobic or racist being chanted or even yelled from the terraces.

    Which must make for a stilted, pious atmosphere right? Not a bit of it, they have some of the most inventive and funny chants in football and a weekly inclusive carnival atmosphere with attendances rising and rising.

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  • Poor article, people like you want to game all the fun of football away… Liberal Lefty

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  • Oh god what’s wrong with a bit of banter….. What a boring sod you are

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    • Nothing wrong with ‘banter’ but why not make it more original and not rely on tired outdated stereotypes that belong in the 1970s?

      I’m sure the Liverpool fans who chucked bananas at John Barnes as a form of ‘welcome’ on his Liverpool debut would have claimed it was ‘banter’ too.

      Thankfully we’ve moved on from those days, it’s time to consign the outdated stuff Joe described above to the dustbin of history too.

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  • Those guys are the reason I stopped going to games, any of you see what happened at Accrington away a few years back? Shocking. I was completely embarrassed

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  • if you can’t have fun at football without sexism or any other ism then there is something wrong with you. Suggesting it is a poor article on the basis it’s morally correct is ridiculous.

    calling it banter is equally ridiculous.

    I’m not a lefty or politically correct, I just have enough sense to know that behaving like that is wrong, if it happened in a pub you would get a slap and if you behaved like that in a workplace you would get the sack…. Or at least should do.

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  • Joe, good article, but can you explain how to change the sordid mentality of the herd? Are there any lessons from other sports where supporters from both teams happily mix in a bar before the game, exchange pleasant banter, sit/stand next to each other in the ground, exchange more pleasant banter, get drunk together in another bar after the game and leave exchanging further pleasantries along with phone and email details and promises of meeting up again next time. Ask that good lady of yours why it works in some sports, I wish I had the answer it would make football at or above Conference level worth going to see with the family. Personally I enjoy the odd trip to watch Brightlingsea Regent, Level 8 Ryman League Division One North, good old fashioned banter (i.e. who ate all the pies chanted at the Redbridge No.6 as he was trudging off for an early bath), none of the behavior you describe at STFC and I imagine like Dulwich Hamlet an entertaining afternoon.

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  • Great article… spot on

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  • Good point well made. Was at Fleetwood Saturday and was ashamed at Swindon fans reaction to the assistant ref. She was by far the best official on the park Saturday and had total dedication to her task.
    I would also like to say that fleetwood was a model of the away experience. Pitched up (having been able to park (free) in the same post code. Asked directions to the away end and was amazed at having one of the stewards Being my personal guide to the ground, where I needed to go but advising me we could go in the home bar for a drink first. This was not isolated to just this member of staff but everyone I had the pleasure to meet.
    No thuggish stewards treating away fans like scum.
    Fleetwood was a great day out, good luck in the future to the assistant referee

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  • Thanks to everyone for their kind messages. I just wrote what I felt.

    Dulwich Hamlet at home on Tues the 13th? Anyone going?

    Fleetwood seemed like a tremendous club to me, with their wonderful guide for away fans. Sadly I feel foul to some horrendous road works and made it with moments to spare. They sold me a cup of tea and let me add my own milk (4 pinter of real semi skimmed) I was in heaven….

    Ben Wells means two things to me, my best mate from Uni, with a dry sense of humour and acerbic wit, and a youth team player by the same name who never made it. l’ll ask my mate just in case, but it seems unlikely.

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  • Being a female Swindon Town supporter and someone who works in a male-dominated profession, there are so many things I’d say to say here (not least in response to Ben Wells and Jamie Walsh) but it would take me all day. Suffice to say… excellent article. Thank you!

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  • An excellent article Joe, very well written. It’s embarrassing and saddening that this herd of juvenile yobs have been attached to Town’s away support for so long now. I’m as passionate about the Town as the next fan and I like a laugh more than most, but the behaviour of our ‘herd’ suggests that they lack core values, not to mention basic intelligence. I don’t know what the answer is, maybe we just have to wait until they grow up.

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  • Very good article. Football is really stuck in a past age sometimes.

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  • I am in no way condoning racist, homophobic or sexist language or behaviour but this is symptomatic of some sections of society’s attitudes generally. I wasn’t there but I know from experience that some or even most of the people shouting these things wouldn’t even think it was unacceptable or illegal.They should have been challenged and if your writer didn’t feel like he could do it he should have complained to the stewards and pointed out the offenders to them. By not doing so he has undermined his own article. We have a duty as members of society and as STFC fans to do so.

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    • On being challenged elsewhere on it being disappointing that I would have let “Get yer tits out” go I said, “By let it go I meant I would still have fumed about it but would not have tweeted about it and therefore wouldn’t have been asked to write the piece. I get your point, but sometimes things do force us out of cowardice. Like when, with a southern accent I told a racist rotherham fan that enough was enough and sat there shaking as 60 odd people stared at me. There’s a quote about bad things and good people doing nothing, sometimes we aren’t always brave enough. On sat it was bad enough to stir me out of cowardice, even if not at the time.” Ideally I would have challenged them but I didn’t, but I don’t see why I shouldn’t try and raise it afterwards. If you are brave enough to challenge groups of people when on then great, you’re braver than me.

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  • Excellent article. 10 stars. I can’t praise highly enough the sheer guts & determination of any referee, regardless of gender. They take a hell of a lot of stick, much of it mindless rubbish. I can’t stop supporting STFC because it is in my blood & has been since 1896 through 4 generations but ….. I have the greatest respect for female referees because they are a lot braver than I am.

    Mindless rubbish… on a funnier but not quite as embarrassing was when I watched Town at Tranmere a couple of seasons ago… the chant ‘You’re just a small town in Wales…..’ doooh. Last time I walked out my door here I was in England, Cheshire, Wirral, Merseyside even…. but certainly NOT Wales !!!

    Like

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