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[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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Sindre94 added 11:34 - Oct 5
100% agreed, very good blog mate

Strikes added 11:47 - Oct 5
Good blog. If you look up the word "banter" in the dictionary, the key thing about it is that it is supposed to be "good natured". If it isn't good natured, it's abuse.

Doctor_Albran added 12:17 - Oct 5
Interesting blog which raises a few questions (not sure it answers many - but that may not have been your intention).

There is a fine line between abuse and friendly 'banter' (for want of a better word) but who is to say what is and isn't abusive? Although some songs are quite clearly abuse - I'm sure Delia would be upset if she wasn't permanently drunk (allegedly)!

The problem is, what is acceptable to one person is not to another, as such do you ban all chanting? (it is the only logical end point) Atmosphere would be less without it.

Racism has been largely removed from grounds, but this is as a result of wider social change rather than changes to football specifically - but where are racism is a form of direct abuse the above is often quite random.

It would be nice to think that some thing should be above most intelligent, sane people - which is the other issue - not all footy fans are either of those and others are seemingly changed into unintelligent morons by simply going to a football match...!

Only time will tell.

Tractorog added 12:26 - Oct 5
The referee's from Norwich, the referee 's from Norwich...
I respect your opinion, but ...we're IT FC not IT PC.
You can't make everything sterile and serve it with a frothy coffee and a prawn sandwich. I agree that racial abuse and some of the other stuff is unacceptable, but it's not a boy scout convention and i hate the way we seem to be obsessed with turning everything into a law.

SammyT added 15:10 - Oct 5
Ref's to complain next? Am sure D'urso doesnt like being called a c**t every time he comes to PR. lol.

ventilator added 15:15 - Oct 5
IMO, a good way to gauge what would be reasonable is to imagine what the targetted individual would say or do, if you said it to their face. If I made a howler at work a la Rob Green, then I would expect to get some comments about it from colleagues.
Also, a la Delia, if I got drunk and made a tit of myself, then I would expect to have to endure a number of comments in this regard. I might not like it, but it is my own actions that have lead to this 'banter'.
If however someone told me to my face that they wanted me dead, like Arsenal fans did to Adeboyer, then that person would probably end up on the end of a pasting. This is not banter, this is vitriol, and it is the preserve of the coward in my view, as they can make their comments heard, but hide in a crowd to ensure their anonymity.

AlpineBlue added 22:34 - Oct 5
Fantastic blog. Really good idea to get people thinking and talking about this issue. I have often heard a few people chanting about Justin Fashanu, and it makes me feel really ashamed. Do these people actually know what they are chanting? It's pretty sick.

Tractorboy24 added 23:42 - Oct 5
Glad you did this piece as I have been thinking about this since Saturday, the first time I absolved myself from a chant at town. I've always enjoyed the banter and believe that subjects on performance and club choice (rob green) is fair game in the banter stakes. I also thought some of the chants about the Brighton fans' boyfriends knowing if they were here, whilst close to the line, was still quite amusing. However, the chants of Brighton being 'a town full of f****ts' was plain nasty, and found myself not joining in. I'm not gay, and whilst I used to have a soft spot for Brighton, I came away disliking them due to their petulance throughout the game on Saturday. I still feel that there are terms which people will only use at football grounds, hopefully the fact that the n word has vanished from mass chants, could mean that in the future words like f****t will also go, but maybe the enforcement is what will send the message to those that sing it?

Sospiri added 06:50 - Oct 6
This issue has even made it onto the world service here in the Land of the Long White Cloud - mostly related to the Rangers / Celtic rivalry - but same debate.

HarryfromBath added 12:34 - Oct 6
Excellent piece - thank you for laying this out in such a considered way.

Connections with mocking crowds have deep cultural roots, and can be seen both in the characters in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales and the tone of Shakespeare's Comedies, where bawdy participation was well nigh encouraged. The football ground is a theatre - players like Cantona understood this intuitively - and the audience does have a role to play.

There is a line to be drawn around when what is good natured ragging (which we are good at) becomes something darker. I think the line in similar to the one stand up-comedians tread, when edgy humour suddenly starts to have victims, and this is where the abuse starts.

I think that this is a really well considered piece, and many thanks for shine a good light on a difficult subject.

nitroblue1970 added 15:41 - Oct 6
I was in The Brittania for the Brighton game and could clearly hear the "your a town of "pork based gravy products"....I have to admit that i did crack a little smile....and to be frank its pretty tame compared to a lot of stuff thats spouted by away fans at portman Road. Im wondering though in the light of the new found homophobic Northstanders wether the "official" supporters club will thrust their sanitised view of flowery football down our throats over the PA at the next home match! Brits are famous all over the world for our sense of humour..and lets face it, most chanting is just an example of that surely!

cooper4england added 19:59 - Oct 6
Good article well written. Difficult subject. Unfortunately "banter" can often be about whether something is funny and intelligent or not. Shouting "you are a town full of faggots" demonstrates no humour or creativity. However chanting "do your boyfriends know your here" shows a degree of wit.

Could be argued that both are offensive but,for me, the latter demonstrates humour and not vulgarity. However I am not gay and I don't have a sense of how venomous such a comment is. Tough one

Tractorboy24 added 00:23 - Oct 7
I think the issue I may have had wasn't the creativity, but the use of a word, which I'd consider a hate word. It's like describing someone by the colour of their skin, you wouldn't use the n word which has been used as a tool of hatred, something which I believe the f word has also been used as.

Stu_Magoo added 06:45 - Oct 8
Appreciate the time taken to write such a blog - yet utterly pointless. The degree of banter at football grounds will deteriorate at the same rate as society i.e quite quickly. The same chavs that slap old ladies and record it on their mobile phones "for fun" are always going to be amused at spewing bile in the name of football support. Death, racism, atrocities etc should be avoided, however I have to admit the Brighton chants made me chuckle. Judge me as you will.

victorywilhappen added 07:58 - Oct 9
Very good article. ventilator- a very good reply. We do not leave our IQ or EI at the turnstiles when we enter the ground. make whatever excuse you want for cowardly words at a match, i find it a ugly and embarrassing . Harry from Bath- good reply quoting Ipswich born Chaucer.
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