Bristol City’s game last weekend away to Luton Town will go down as an entirely unforgettable display culminating in a 3-0 loss, and by the sounds of it, an abject performance to boot.
Unfortunately, however, it was not what happened on the pitch that has drawn the attention of the national media in the days since. I think it is prudent for me to point out at this stage that I wasn’t at the game, but I do want to comment on the fallout from one of our club’s darkest days in recent years.
Should you be reading this, you are most likely aware of the discussions surrounding what many to be perceived as racist and/or Islamophobic chanting at the loss at Kenilworth Road.
If you haven’t, and just for context, Bristol City fans could be allegedly heard singing the name of far right activist Tommy Robinson as well as chants such as “you’re not English anymore” and “you’re just a small town in Asia”.
According to the 2011 census, Luton is one of three English towns in the United Kingdom that is made up of less than 50 per cent of residents that identify as being white British. For these reasons, the songs mentioned above have caused outrage in many, while others have been left miffed as to what all the fuss is about.
Now, before we discuss the two sides of each coin, there is a point of view doing the rounds that I wish to add my voice to: that political chanting, or potentially racist, or highly abusive chanting of any nature, has no place at a football match because by engaging in such behaviour the perpetrators are being deeply selfish.
As soon as you choose to engage in a potentially divisive chant you are alienating other members of your support base, not to mention that fact that it is incredibly unproductive in support of the team.
But I also align myself with those seeing something much more sinister in the events that took place last weekend.
There isn’t really any need for a debate as to whether these chants represented racial intolerance (a phrase wisely used by the club itself). For me, they clearly did.
But it does interest me to see how the discussions have unfolded since the ugly scenes that have marred the team that I love and have caused a great deal of anguish among many of my friends.
The discourse across social media has mostly centered around people arguing as to if the songs themselves could be considered to be racist, and as to whether one can be engaging in racism by chanting a person’s name.
There is of course a widely held view that these discussions do little to change people’s views and are both unproductive and inconsequential in the long term. They often consist of two or more people expressing views in such an embittered manner that little common ground can be found, with each party only goading and antagonising the other.
I do, however, see merit in these exchanges. I have both been a party to and observed discussions of such ilk and although I can report a fair amount of abhorrent views being shared, I have also seen some debate around the events that took place last Saturday that have filled me with some optimism.
There has been, to my surprise, some nuance to some of the views shared and discussed. Despite the ugly nature and topic of debate, I can’t help feeling that this is a very different reaction from the last time that I heard racially motivated chants on such a large scale watching Bristol City when we played Leicester at home in 2013.
When I first started watching City, casual homophobia, sexism and anti-Asian sentiment was reasonably commonplace. Over the last 25 years or so that I have been attending Ashton Gate, incidents of this ilk have unquestionably become less common, but still exist.
To see these chants being called out for what they are, and to see the people that are expressing these views being challenged directly across social media feels a step in the right direction.
Being white, heterosexual and male, it is impossible for me to put myself in the shoes of those that are on the end of such abuse. I do recall, however, a friend of my older brother being racially abused at a Bristol City game in the late 90s, against Luton Town in fact.
My brother’s friend reacted as many would in this situation and challenged the person that had hurled the abuse. Stewards then interviewed and at first thought my brother’s friend had been the aggressor, but having spoke to the fans around the area it became clear that the person in question had been guilty of racial abuse and was rightly ejected from the stadium.
I remember hearing how my brother’s friend broke into tears once the event was over.
There have also been several reports of violent acts towards the many City fans that objected verbally to the behaviour of the minority, with one supporter reporting being punched as they left the stadium.
This needs to be investigated and if the culprit is found I hope they are dealt with swiftly and strongly. Well done to those fans who made their anger at these songs heard at the game.
The club have, understandably and correctly, acted in a swift manner and have said – as is the norm these days – that anyone found guilty of using racist language will be banned for life from both Ashton Gate and purchasing tickets for any away matches. And rightly so.
Racism is still sadly prevalent in our society, and football mirrors society. It is likely that Bristol City were not the first team this season visiting Kenilworth Road where the away end sung songs of this ilk, and most likely we will not be the last.
Given the events that took place in Bulgaria last week though, there was a sharp focus over the weekend in relation to potential racist behaviour or language.
I hope that the same level of scrutiny continues, and isn’t just in the wake of the awful scenes in Sofia, and that when I start taking my son to football in a few years’ time, such behaviour will be a thing of the past.
Dave Skinner used to write weekly blogs on Bristol24/7 about Bristol City, the football club that he has spent the majority of his life adoring