EPL: Racist Chants Underline Problem in Culture, Not Game
"Adebayor, Adebayor. [Something kind of racist], and his mum's a [rhymes with Adebayor]."
This is not the first time I've written the lyrics of the wildly offensive chant recited by Tottenham Hotspur fans toward Togolese striker Emmanuel Adebayor during the club's away leg fixture of the 2010-11 Champions League quarterfinals against Real Madrid.
And it's not the first time that I've censored the content of the chant either, despite assurances from Bleacher Report's content standards department that I would not incur any punishment for publishing them in their original form, so long as I don't portray them in any positive light (those lyrics can be found here for those who don't already know them).
The truth is, I just can't bring myself to write them. Like many before me, I find the entire incident to be despicable, offensive and wildly inappropriate. When I think about it, or come close to the decision of actually writing them down for the world to see, I feel a deep sense of shame for the fact that supporters of the same organization that I support would utter those words, as though it's somehow a failing of my own character by the simple act of association.
When the North London Derby between Tottenham and Arsenal began to draw near, I reached out to an Arsenal featured columnist, Charlie Melman, to increase the entertainment value of the pre-match banter within Bleacher Report's world football content. The proposed idea was this: We would each outline 10 reasons to hate the opposing side, all in good fun, in the spirit of the heated rivalry.
In his article "10 Reasons to Hate Tottenham on Derby Day," Melman made note of the incident as one of his reasons to despise the rival side (and I certainly can't blame him for doing it).
"While I am certainly not claiming that such despicable activity represents Spurs fans as a whole," Melman said of the racist chanting, "the mere fact that this subculture exists makes Spurs a much easier club to dislike."
And then, when the much-anticipated match finally commenced, a group of Arsenal fans made headlines of their own, chanting equally horrifying chants in White Hart Lane (again toward Emmanuel Adebayor, who nobly put any lingering disdain behind him to join Spurs on a one-year loan from Manchester City in the summer transfer window).
"It should have been you," they sang in reference to the deadly attacks on the Togo team bus in the 2010 African Cup of Nations tournament in Angola. "It should have been you killed in Angola. It should have been you."
Though lyrics have not been published (as far as I'm aware), rumors of more racially charged chants being uttered during the match have been circling around, as well.
Almost immediately following the match, commenters on Melman's article were already pointing it out. In direct response to the insinuations of a racist subculture among the ranks of Tottenham supporters, one commenter simply replied, "I don't know what sort of 'subculture' there is at Arsenal then."
While the comment may have been well intended and may have stated a fair enough point, I can't help but think that the banter misses the point entirely and comes across as decidedly inappropriate. If there's one thing that the events of the North London derby made clear, it's that there is no racist "subculture" within the the supporter groups.
The problem of racism is much, much bigger than that.
Racism is not a "Tottenham" thing or an "Arsenal" thing to be used as ammunition leading up to and following derby day. Rather, it is an underlying problem in North London—and London as a whole—that exists behind the curtains with or without football.
For some, the idea of racism incites images of the American deep South, a region of the world known for racial tensions and viewed by many to be lagging depressingly far behind most of the first world in terms of tolerance and equality. However, we often forget that racism, to some degree, exists in every corner of the world, whether we like to admit it or not.
As an American, I have often viewed my own country as having an unacceptable lack of tolerance as a whole, mostly due to stories passed along of other parts of the nation and media coverage of regions that exist far away from where I grew up and currently reside. However, I thoroughly believed my home city of Seattle was free from such prejudices, and entirely above them.
Yet, even here the ugly face of racism exists, mostly among the working class in blue-collar families. Until I took a job in highway construction to pay my tuition, I had never once heard the "N word" spoken anywhere but in movies set in urban cities or in the South. I was horrified the first time I heard a white coworker say it so casually on the job, but after six years in the industry I almost forgot it's terribly derogatory nature (and I often despise myself for letting it lose its meaning in those years). It was just used so often that it became a normal part of my work day to hear it spoken aloud.
However, I still maintained that America was surely the only first-world nation that struggled so much with equality. That belief stuck with me well into adulthood. I was honestly stunned to hear, during the London riots in August, reporters commenting on the "racially charged" violence in neighborhoods of London known for "racial tension."
Just like in Seattle, there is an element of racism in London, and it doesn't care about football results or club affiliations. It doesn't care about Arsenal FC or Tottenham Hotspur, or whether or not Rafael van der Vaart should have been sent off for his goal celebration. It doesn't care which club Emmanuel Adebayor plays for now.
To act as though offensive slander or racist chants are indicative of a single club's (or multiple clubs') nature, or that it has anything to do with football at all, is to gloss over the issue entirely. To discuss racism in the same breath as we discuss Wojciech Szczęsny's save count is to trivialize that which should never be trivialized
Football and racism exist as entirely separate entities. For as long as racism exists, and as long as football attracts the hoards of supporters that it attracts in today's world, then yes, racism is going to be a dark side to the game that nobody wants to acknowledge or address.
However, I can't see any reason to think that England currently hosts any "racist clubs" or "racist fanbases" following either incident. England, like the rest of the world, instead hosts racist individuals who sometimes attend football matches.
The only role that football (ideally) plays in racism is aiding the worldwide effort to end it entirely, a challenge that both organizations in the North London Derby admirably stood up to achieve.
Putting their century-long loathing of each other to the side for one brief moment, Tottenham and Arsenal came together to issue a joint statement condemning the chanters for their offensive slander:
Both clubs were extremely disappointed to hear the chants from supporters at yesterday's game. Neither club tolerates foul language, racist chanting, homophobic chanting or any anti-social behaviour from its supporters. We shall be working closely with each other to identify the individuals involved.
That is the true character of both of these clubs, and the message that any fan in North London should take away from this whole ordeal, no matter which side of the derby they happen to be on.
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