|[Blog] Banter or Abuse?|
Written by TimS on Wednesday, 5th Oct 2011 11:04
Is it really nearly 15 years ago on Friday 11th October 1996, when I went to see my first derby fixture at Carrow Road? These were the days before derby games were forced to become an automatic companion to the Sunday roast. Back in 1996, I was 16 with a load of adolescent attitude, acne-spotted moodiness but excited about the biggest game that I had seen since starting to watch Town play.
Derby games were explained to me as the holy grail of a Town fan’s season. We may have been 16, but the parents were worried. We were driven by a friend’s dad to County Hall in Norwich, with strict instructions to not get involved with any trouble. When we swaggered down to the ground through hordes of Canary fans hovering around burger vans, there was an exciting atmosphere. It was something different to what I had experienced before.
The fun did not quite last. The game was forgettable. Norwich were on top for most of the match, and Town were never at the races. This game was the first occasion for the Town faithful to vent their spleen at Ian Crook, after a summer on and off transfer saga. As the game began to fall apart on the pitch, we all tried to get under the skin of Crook with a chant that was repeated over and over again. It did no good. Norwich won, and it was a long journey over endless pitch black fields until the welcome sight of Ipswich.
One of my friends was in tears. He never really coped with any Ipswich loss. Despite the sniggering laughter in the rest of the car, the friend looked out of the window to realise that he had only arrived at Long Stratton, and had not even left Norfolk. I had never seen anyone cry after a football match, and I found myself trying to console someone, who seemed to behave that there had been a family bereavement.
After a while, I began to reflect on the chant that I had sung. It has felt great to be one of the lads for a Friday night but the saying, although not horrendous, did not especially have a great after taste. I am also not sure that it had much of an impact on the player either, with Ian Crook continuing to run around the pitch seemingly oblivious to the white noise that was coming out of the away end.
I am fast forwarding to 5th October 2011 after a weekend when the abuse at games in White Hart Lane and Goodison Park has been highlighted in the media. I am not comparing what was said to Ian Crook, with the chants about Munich, Hillsborough, Heysel, or the tragic events involving the Togo national team in 2010. However, I am left wondering what is allowed to be said at football matches. What sort of banter should be within derby matches or any football match whether home or away?
One of the nice things about following Town away from home is that your club does not have a reputation that most fans end up in custody by 4:55pm on Saturday afternoon. Therefore, apart from in Norfolk, you are not route marched to the ground as if you were convicted criminals heading to a prison. However, I have noticed that policing has dramatically increased during the last couple of years. Is this increase due to an increase in ‘banter?’ After all stewards are a lot more jumpy and watching football can be a sometimes unpleasant experience. I worry that if I say anything or do anything, including criticising a player, I will be escorted from the ground. Where is the line between a chant, banter, or abuse?
I hate the word ‘banter.’ It is one of those weasel words that means nothing. One man’s ‘banter’ is another’s ‘abuse.’ Last week I was at Upton Park watching Town fans gently remind Robert Green that he had a howler in the World Cup 2010 game against USA, and that he once played for Norwich. There was a great moment when Town fans shared Green’s pain that he needed another bottle of water. Was this banter? When Robert Green walked over towards the Town’s fans to begin his second half, he surely knew that he would get some comment, or ‘banter.’
During the second half, of the West Ham v Ipswich game, there was some comment flying between the fans with a few references to the recent activities at Dale Farm, traditional East London culture, the Suffolk murders and the work of farmers. Some of the chants were so random that the words just fell into the night sky. The Suffolk murders have been a favourite topic of away fans, which could fall under the abuse banner. It will be five years since those dreadful events come December. Those chants could be classified as abuse, although I would be interested to know whether any fans have been ejected from a ground because of any comments associated with this particular incident that especially effected the town of Ipswich.
There are the terrace chants that have become part of folklore down the years. Although probably close to the knuckle by today’s standards, the utterings from stands such as the Kop and the Holte End are now regarded with a certain amount of misty-eyed reverence. There is the banter, which appears that you are expected to withstand regardless whether it is personal, outrageous or downright offensive in nature. However you are supposed to withstand it because you a football fan and you should expect it.
There is the abuse that should be particularly clamped down upon. There has been some development in clamping down on some of the more racial aspects of the material. Photographs of bananas being thrown at black players are a thing of the past. However, do we really feel comfortable when we hear a foul mouthed abusive tirade at the manager or player on other topics such as sexuality, football competence, appearance or general attitude?
Maybe some people will always believe that they have the right to say what they want, and how they want when they are in the football ground. With that attitude, we will get more ‘banter’ that makes the whole football going experience forgettable.
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