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.
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