In Response To Oliver Holt PDF Print E-mail
Written by Mark W   
Saturday, 30 March 2013 17:19

If you read my trip report from San Marino you will know that I was quite forthright in my criticism of elements of the England support. I was shocked however to read this article by Oliver Holt making accusations of racism. HERE

The article makes some very serious accusations about the English supporters in the Stadio Olympico and some of the songs that were being sung.

The key song that the article refers to is the 'Bonfire' song. I was at the game and have spoken to dozens of other people that were there. Not one of us heard this song. Of course, that does not mean that it was not sung. There were England fans all around the ground and it may have originated in an area away from where everyone I have spoken to were sat. I have no reason to think that Mr Holt would have invented this song and so can only take his word for the fact that it was sung.

What I can say, however, is that if there were people in the ground singing this, there could not have been very many of them. A group of say 30 fans singing a song would have been clearly audable in that small stadium. My assumption, therefore is that if it was sung there may have been perhaps 5-10 people involved.

It is the nature of the article that upsets me. The inference is that England supporters are racist and this inference is damaging. A lot of work has gone on from the FA in 'cleaning up' the England support over the last decade or so. In many cases, I think they have gone over the top in this but without doubt they have made fantasic inroads when it comes to racism. To suggest that the England support is still racist, therefore is truely unfair.

Do not get me wrong, I am not for one moment claiming that there are not people with racist view who still follow the England national team. Of course there are. There will always be people in all walks of life who hold these views, but to say England have some racist fans is completely different to saying that England's support is racist. Every club and every nation has some racist fans be it football, rugby, cricket or syncronised swimming.

If there were a small number of fans who were singing racist songs, they need to be dealt with by the FA and by the police. We do not need these people following England. Mr Holt is right here. One person shouting racist abuse is one person too many. If it just a handful though, they should be being dealt with in an appropriate manner, ie. identified and banned. This should not have been sensationalised headline news.

Having been in Rimini and San Marino on the day of the game, I can confirm that there was a lot of anger about Rio Ferdinand's decision to comentate on the game in the Middle East rather than play for his national side. You have to remember that many fans had paid a significant amount of money and booked a week off work to follow the team to San Marino and Montenegro. Is it surprising that they were frustrated with someone who was seen to 'not be bothered to play'? At no point during the day, however, did I hear one racist comment about him.

There is, of course a secondary issue. Assuming we take the song as read, is it actually racist? On the face of it, no. There is nothing at all in that song which uses any kind of racist language and as has been well documented the somg is used at grounds around the country with no racial conotations. The only way, however, to know whether a song like this is being sung with racist undertones is to know the individuals singing it. The same song could easily be sung by two different people for different reasons. As we are yet to identify any individuals as having sung it, I do not understand how a conclusion can have been reached that it was racist.

If you wonder why this matters so much, it is not because of the threat of England playing a game behind closed doors. FIFA are perfectly entitled to investigate and I fully expect the outcome to be that England have no case to answer. The problem comes from the perception of England fans to the general population. I have already heard friends tell me "That's why I don't follow the national team". Some members of the press seem to thrive off criticising the England supporters who care passionately and will follow the team all over the world. Surely we want to be encouraging fans to support England, not turning them away. Furthermore we want to attract fans from different backgrounds. There is a small but increasing number of black and Asian fans following England. That's a good thing but inaccurate reporting like this will put others off.

I care passionately about England and I care passionately about the image of England fans. I have many friends who follow England home and away much more frequently than I do. These are good people who are helping to promote the good name of England fans. It's a real kick in the teeth when someone comes along and tries to undermine this for the sake of a headline.

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Last Updated on Saturday, 30 March 2013 18:20