THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

16 September ~ Manchester City visit Wigan on Sunday afternoon. In the same fixture last season away fan Steve Parish had a bad experience, made worse by the authorities' reaction

Is it racist to chant "His dad washes elephants" at an African footballer? And if you were at a match and complained to the stewards and the police that it was racist, would you expect to get thrown out? The Crown Prosecution Service isn't sure they'd get a conviction because "it doesn't mention a particular race or culture" – but then neither does making monkey noises. And a 60-year-old vicar got thrown out of Wigan's DW Stadium last season, after he complained about the chants and that his complaint about the alleged criminal offence was not being taken seriously. When he refused to go back to his seat and asked to speak to a senior police officer, he was ejected from the ground. I know – I was that vicar.

The best moment was when they asked for my full name and I said "The Reverend...". They still pushed me out (literally pushed). By that stage, I'd made a conscious decision that if I did get thrown out, I'd really start making a fuss. I'm co-ordinator of the fans committee for Man City (whose player was being abused) so I emailed the club and got their support in seeking redress. Three weeks later the secretary of Wigan Athletic replied to say that the club "safety officer" had upheld the stewards' action. The Football Licensing Authority suggested that if I couldn't resolve it with the club – I wanted an apology and my ticket money back – I could go to the Independent Football Ombudsman (IFO). But first I had to exhaust the process by going to the Premier League.

Meanwhile, Greater Manchester Police investigated my objection that they had not taken action on a complaint about a racist offence. The two officers I spoke to at the game said later that they could just hear "a wall of noise"; this was barely credible as I'd told them what was being sung. I was going to let the complaint to the police rest there, but the safety officer's reply said that the police stated that the songs being sung were offensive but not racist. If they couldn't hear the words, how could they make that judgement?

A long letter went back to Wigan. "I'm a bit concerned by the implication that neither police nor stewards (nor the safety officer) wanted to stop the offensive chanting." The police officers had asked if I expected them to arrest everyone who was singing it. No, I said, just one. The Football Offences Act has been amended so that one person chanting alone is committing an offence, but it's odd that the police should then decline to act because a lot of people are committing the crime.

Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of this is that the stewards had been wearing "Kick It Out" anti-racism badges and the programme had a big spread about it – asking fans to report racist abuse. The Kick It Out campaign told me that the chanting was unacceptable and "we are working with both the football authorities and the clubs, looking at ways of how we eradicate it". Getting the clubs not to throw out spectators who complain about it would be a start.

As the Premier League got bogged down in whether the chant was racist or not, I eventually took it to the IFO, who interviewed the steward, who said I'd been warned and that I was told I was being ejected for "unreasonable behaviour" – not obeying a steward is an offence under the ground regulations. I say no warning or reason was ever given.

As the Ombudsman put it: "In the face of accounts which conflict in some aspects, it is not possible for the IFO to determine precisely what took place in the events leading up to the complainant's ejection, in particular what was said by way of warnings, or reasons for the ejection." They interviewed the steward but not me – a trial with just one side giving evidence. There was nothing about the police supposedly deciding at the time that the chant was not racist, but not communicating that to me or even the stewards (if they'd let me speak again to the police, I could have heard that for myself – if it was ever said). And he concluded: "However much sympathy the IFO might feel for the complainant, it is not possible to say that Wigan were not entitled to take the action which they did."

I certainly broke the ground regulations by not obeying a steward, but he refused my reasonable request to speak to a senior police officer about an alleged criminal offence – so where was the fairness, or an equitable solution? If they'd just given me my money back and a half-hearted apology I'd have been satisfied. My only consolation is that I gave them a lot of grief and put a lot of people to a great deal of trouble, when that apology would have sufficed.

Comments (27)
Comment by Racing Club Exile 2010-09-16 12:59:49

Seriously, don't go to football if you can't cope with this kind of banter. Pick your arguments more carefully and concentrate on out and out racism. The police don't wade in arresting people because it temporarily takes them away from the front line and furthermore, I wouldn't consider it reasonable to expect to see a senior police officer regarding a trivial issue in the middle of a match.

Comment by bearlion 2010-09-16 13:41:18

I hate the word banter.

Comment by lone striker 2010-09-16 14:27:59

"can't cope with" is also bloody patronising.

Good on Steve for not letting it rest.

Comment by robw 2010-09-16 14:37:32

It's hardly a trivial issue, nor is it 'banter' It's a racist taunt and the Reverend is quite correct to pursue the matter.

Comment by phnompenhandy 2010-09-16 14:44:07

RCE - I wonder if you'd care to add your view to the WSC article on the West Brom supporters' worthy stance against racism. Perhaps you's also care to explain why the stewards should be sporting 'Kick It Out' badges whilst kicking the reverend out.

Comment by wichtalinoman 2010-09-16 14:53:35

Agree entirely with robw. At Winchester City, in the Wessex Premier, we have an owner who thinks it's fine to make monkey noises at opposing black players (presumably assuming City's black players are deaf or don't mind)and then intimidates those who make complaints to Kick It Out with very real threats of physical violence. In a crowd of 150 - now a lot lower - you couldn't mistake the abuse for anything else. Reference to the police has only yielded a warning (to the complainants) as to the owner's established unsavoury character and the risks complaining bring.

Tolerating racist 'humour' effectively endorses it and encourages perpetrators to go further. At Winchester, none of us being professional hoodlums, we're reduced to voting with our feet and wallets, but there should be real options for effective remedial action when you're paying £30-£60 a ticket.

Comment by Paul S 2010-09-16 15:07:30

I wonder if the good Reverend has made complaints about the sheep-shagging comments aimed at Welsh fans, derogatory comments aimed at Scousers / Mancunians / Geordies / Londoners etc. ??

Comment by ajw692 2010-09-16 15:19:35

I think RCE makes a good point that causing a great fuss about a fairly minor incident is unlikely to get the right sort of attention - if I was one of the stewards, honestly I think I would rather ignore the one small issue than 'wade in arresting people'. I do feel for the Reverend though. Clearly the stewards' actions did not representing the badges that they were wearing, and when the fans are actively encourage to report abuse, particularly abuse with racial implications, the whole thing just reeks of hypocrisy. It's unfortunate. On the other hand, if the Reverend could be ejected so easily, why not one abusive individual! And saying 'don't go to football if you can't cope with this sort of banter' is a disgusting attitude to take - this is just the sort of attitude that those in the Kick It Out campaign are fighting against.

Comment by rckd 2010-09-16 15:51:05

Interesting that these things still happen. I've been to St Andrew's hundreds of times (largely in the same part of the stadium, admittedly, which could make the difference) but I can't remember once hearing any sort of racist chanting. I think that might be somewhat surprising given the racial tension that is often rife in Birmingham as a city - but I'm glad that it isn't me that has to deal with these things.

For the most part, Birmingham fans are pretty outspoken and don't suffer fools (when things aren't going too well and someone is giving a tirade to McFadden for being a lazy so-and-so, other people will actively argue their point across the block) so I imagine that if anything of this nature cropped up, it would be repressed in-house pretty quickly. There are plenty of black and Asian bluenoses that attend regularly (I would hazard a guess at a larger percentage than most clubs) so I suspect that any racism - however subtle - would not be allowed to persist for too long.

Not that that should be a deciding factor; everyone has the right to be offended by racism. I can't say that the same stands for geographical areas in Britain - to band jibes about someone's city into the same bracket as slurs against ethnicity, race, skin-colour etc is completely missing the point. I don't think Welsh/Scouse/Cockney chants etc are especially well-conceived or tasteful either but affiliation to a nation or city are something people choose for themselves, therefore they choose how much they get offended. Insulting someone's birth traits is very, very different.

Comment by Lincoln 2010-09-16 16:09:52

The Rev. should be applauded for taking action, rather than sitting quitely on his hands looking a bit offended as the majority do. The implementation of a secret text service is perhaps something to remedy this. People who make offensive chants have to be challenged. I have done this myself when two lads in front decided to call the black players in the Lincoln team after different Indian dishes (as you do) each time one recieved the ball, I asked them to stop and they did. If it were someone more intimidating I would ask the steward and expect them to act. However I have found on numerous occasions that stewards are no more reasonable than club bouncers when it comes to a complaint, backed up by rules heavily in their favour and are programmed to eject when challenged. Interestingly enough you'll never guess where I see the nightclub bouncers at 3pm on a saturday afternoon wearing yellow jackets...

Comment by mfm 2010-09-16 16:25:31

I think Paul S must be mad. I'm a Chelsea fan and we get called "Chelsea Rent Boys" and other 'hilarious' names on a regular basis. I've also been abused for being a "cockney" when at away grounds (although I'm from Harrow so they're well off the mark). I don't find any of these things offensive because Chelsea fans and people from London aren't a 'race' of people. Abusing someone for being African is horribly offensive and shouldn't be tolerated by ANYONE, not just Reverends!

My advice to anyone who finds themselves in a similar situation is to calmly take note of the names and/or ID numbers of the stewards involved and write a letter explaining what happened to the clubs PR or Communications Manager letting them know that you are copying the letter to a National Newspaper/MP/someone else. You'll be amazed how quickly you get a positive response!

Comment by Liffrok 2010-09-16 17:47:52

Is there still an anti-racism hotline you can text or phone from your seat when at the game? Possibly if the stewards are being uncooperative this could be a way of getting through?

Comment by MoeTheBarman 2010-09-16 19:32:35

Interesting the 'Rev' doesn't seem able to forgive the sinners; his god does command him to after all. He appears instead to have taken pleasure at causing the authorities problems; how very Christian of you...

Also, love the Chelsea fan wading in saying how horrible it is when it was Chelsea fans who created that song in the first place, ha ha ha!

Comment by Harry Truscott 2010-09-16 20:31:21

Paul S is known on the WSC message board as an idiotic troll, I wouldn't take his comments seriously. Steve Parish ( Reverend Parish? No!) should be commended roar his original complaint, his continued stance since and this article. Racing Club Exile is clearly just an apologist for racism and itching to use the phrase "political correctness gone mad".

Comment by Moonlight shadow 2010-09-16 22:27:17

Nothing surprises me anymore about the stewards at the ex-JJB/DW...

Comment by madmickyf 2010-09-17 05:01:04

Not surprised at the reaction of the stewards as I think this is symptomatic of the way most stewards (and police) treat away supporters i.e. like trouble-making scum who deserve to be thrown out or locked up regardless of whether they have a legitimate complaint.

If the Reverend had been making his complaint in the home end I wonder if he would've been taken more seriously?

Comment by HORN 2010-09-17 08:42:32

Syllabically-speaking it's a most dissatisfying chant as well, particularly if the chanters were pinning it onto the tune for "Score in a Brothel".

Comment by Paul S 2010-09-17 08:54:34

I'm glad I'm not the only one who's been wondering about the linguistics of this chant. For the life of me I can't work out how you would actually chant it.

Comment by ooh aah 2010-09-17 10:35:42

I've heard it. There's some twat in Beijing (he's a spurs fan from N London) who sings it constantly whenever Adebayor is playing. It's clearly a racist chant, but he's a lot bigger than me, and a lot blacker, so I'm in no hurry to actually call him a racist.

Comment by kbmac 2010-09-17 10:52:20

Rather a cheap jibe from MoeTheBarman there. The Bible does indeed call on us to forgive those who sin against us and maybe the Rev Parrish will have to try to do so but it does also call on us to stand up for the oppressed and I think you'll find this is what Steve was doing as I don't think he was the one being personally abused. Racism is a form of oppresion and all Christians whether Reverends or not should be prepared to stand up to it and be ejected from grounds if necessary. No way Jesus would have sat on his hands and listened to it. I'm only embarrassed that I probably would have.

Comment by Walker 2010-09-17 11:03:30

The most implausible thing in the story has to be the coppers suggestion that there was a 'wall of noise' coming from the Wigan end.

Comment by Racing Club Exile 2010-09-17 13:55:08

My apologies if I was patronising, used words that some people hate and also sorry if I'm perceived as being guilty of casual racism. Nevertheless I admit to finding that song no more or less offensive than a non-rascist aeroplane song or similar. However I note that nobody disagrees with my main point that the police don't tend to wade in arresting people because it temporarily takes them away from the front line and that the senior police officer can't be expected to deal with every complaint that arises during the heat of a match. Let's be practical and realistic here. The fact that the Reverend was kicked out was, of course, a total injustice and, sadly, not surprising.

Comment by Janik 2010-09-17 14:44:52

Oh, go on then , RCE, I will.
If the police are not going to intervene to deal with racism within the stadium, then when are they going to intervene? That is defintely part of the front line, the reason they are in the stadium in the first place. If they are going to deal with all potentially troublesome incidents with a softly-softly approach, then they will never deal with anything. If large groups get upset and offended by the police moving it to arrest people chanting this racist ditty, then it might actually make them aware it's a problem and so go a large distance towards solving it.

And suggesting that the song is on a par of offensiveness with your stated examples is again condoning racism.

Comment by genesisisok 2010-09-17 18:56:31

So called Leeds fans (shame I am one) have a distasteful chant about the Munich crash. Week in, week out, it's sung and nothing is done about it. I know it's not racist but it is one of the most offensive chants I've ever had the misfortune to hear.

Memo to West Yorkshire Police: Visit the Old Peacock pub opposite the ground pre-match and arrest the lot of these foul mouthed morons - PLEASE!

Comment by Efficient Baxter 2010-09-20 09:30:58

I feel your pain genesisisok. There was one particular chant heard at Old Trafford yesterday referencing the Heysel disaster which really needs to be stopped. But while it is returned with songs about the Munich disaster and Harold Shipman we're not going to get anyway unfortunately. The problem with crowds is you get a crowd mentality.
I don't understand why the steward at Wigan wouldn't let the reverend speak to a police officer, unless he had 'bouncer syndrome'. All he has to do is pass it onto the police and then he can get on with stewarding. The Rev might even have been allowed back to his seat.

Comment by Racing Club Exile 2010-09-21 12:29:42

Janik, Condoning rascism? How does my comment that there are equally non-rascist but highly offensive songs equate to me condoning rascism? Think about it before making ill-founded (and wrong)accusations please.

Comment by baldmosher 2010-09-24 15:15:47

Goading over Heysel or Munich or any disaster is reprehensible and arguably more offensive (depending on your personal opinion), but that's not illegal. However, if what you're chanting is racist, it is against the law.

The Police should have followed up the complaint, rather than simply shrugging their shoulders and claiming they couldn't hear anything. It was clearly audible - I was there too - and it's not the only place the chant was sung last season including plenty of times at CoMS by away fans.

Of course, if the CPS think that it's not racist, then that's another discussion entirely. But that's surely not for the steward or the officer at the scene to decide, is it?

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