The view from the terraces

Alex van Oostrum
Dec 29, 2018 · 4 min read

Sadly I’m not surprised that Chelsea have got themselves into a mess over racism again. As someone who attended matches home and away for nearly 20 years, I’ve seen it. Up close and personal.

I attended Chelsea games roughly between the ages of 12 and 32. And I have seen, first hand, the type of male that attends Chelsea games. To generalise, it is namely Daily Mail and Sun reading working class white Brits who grew up in a divided Thatcherite era of oppression. And football, as with violence, was for them the cover, the excuse, for behaving however they wanted given the lack of choice in so many other aspects of their lives. Why someone should choose hate over another course is an essay I’m not capable of writing. But the sad thing is, behaviours don’t seem to have changed.

I’ve heard the songs, chanted in the pubs and on the terraces at away fixtures and many are targeted at football fans of other clubs whose backgrounds, heritage or make up is different. But really, it’s nothing to do with the football club in question, it’s about difference, xenophobia, homophobia and racism.

‘No surrender to the IRA’
‘You black bastard, you black bastard’
‘Tottenham are a bunch of Yids’

All of these chants are in Chelsea songs, that I have heard. Frequently. Still today. Although admittedly I haven’t been to a Chelsea game for over 2 years, you can even hear them on TV coverage, and in some cases — as with the recent incident at Stamford Bridge with Raheem Sterling — witness them.

And it’s worse at away games. Those people who over the years Chelsea have stopped from attending home matches, somehow manage to attend away games, or at least their hate when away from home becomes more evident.

West Ham, Tottenham, Portsmouth, all particular fixtures the ill-behaved seem to have marked in the footballing calendar. Again not surprising that those dates seem to mirror the fixtures where hooligan behaviour amongst ‘rival fans’ showed up. But also on the continent. And again it seems to be worse there. I was in Paris the night that a Chelsea fan was caught on camera shouting racist abuse at a metro passenger. Again it doesn’t surprise me. There was an intimidating atmosphere in Paris, it was a crucial game and policing was heavy. But for the xenophobic/racist, opportunity to be aggressive and behave inappropriately under the guise of ‘Chelsea and English’.

Looking at the roots of the problem, Chelsea seems to have been a breeding ground for racist behaviour stemming from hooligan football culture born out of attacks on black players by the National Front. Steeped in societal racism, events in the 70s and 80s, like the Brixton Uprising and similar events in Notting Hill Gate and Tottenham, a result of difficult living conditions, high unemployment and heavy policing amongst oppressed communities. Sadly this gave the football fan — often working class white people brainwashed and recruited by the National Front — an agenda, a platform, an excuse.

Perhaps one can draw similarities between societal conditions now as being a window of opportunity for such behaviour to rear its ugly head. After years of austerity, the growing populism and rhetoric of right wing groups and figures like Tommy Robinson, the rise of UKIP, a Brexit agenda essentially with ‘freedom of movement / immigration’ at it’s heart, to blame for stirring the hornets nest (far right wing groups) once more. I’d even hazard (not that beautiful Belgian currently spearheading the team) a guess that it’s probably the same people who attended football matches in the 80s who are to blame for the most recent spate of racist behaviour. The difference now being that we live in a world where social media and generally globally lead liberal press can out it.

What is clear is that racism seems hard baked into the culture at Chelsea. And until it is called out and stamped out, it will forever be a blight on the club, its reputation and those who support the team irrespective of skin colour, where a player is from or whatever his background. Because don’t get me wrong, the majority of fans aren’t racist, and it is up to the majority — like me — to start calling it out.


Alex van Oostrum

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PR & Communications Manager work -> This is my own writing about running, parenting, life…

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