The Ball is Round: The Crowd is White

Interesting article on the Guardian’s Sport Blog on what they perceive as a gap. 8% of the British population come from an ethnic minority (4% asian, 2% black, figures which in my view combine unlike with unlike in a most unhelpful manner) but nothing like 8% of football crowds are non-white. The comments contribute an unusual amount, especially for this particular subject.

If I discovered one thing from the years since 9/11, it’s this: although the British middle class, by and large, profess a hatred of racism, of sexism, of homophobia, of ageism now, that does not in any way stem from a dislike of discrimination per se. Discrimination is enjoyed as much as it always was – it’s just flown to a safe place, like Frodo at the end of Lord of the Rings, and survives and thrives in broad fertile land beyond the reach of race, gender and sex. And age. Whatever can’t be pinned to one of those donkeys is still grist for the mill.
I’m old enough to remember white racism before it went out of fashion. Living in Bedford, the most ethnically mixed small town in England, it was hard to miss the constant muttering about eyeties, Jews (for all that there weren’t any locally) blacks and Greeks and Chinese (who were actually Malay in origin) and Pakis. I know what it sounds like – I recognise the note, and I hear it still these days in comfortable intellectual suburbia in chat about Americans and <>. Not the same note that gets employed to talk about the French, mind, although the French still come up in conversation.

So I have some sympathy, at least, for people who argue that the white working class are always held to blame for whatever discrimination is going on. Nevertheless, I live in a white working class town (always surveyed as stockbroker belt, but the scene on the ground is quite quite different) and the suspicion/paranoia about anyone who looks different, sounds different, is enough to feel between your fingers as you walk around.

As for football, I am always apprehensive before going to a game. In London, you kind of get to go without buying a ticket, as your trains and buses fill up with fans in blue and red. It doesn’t inspire enthusiasm. Here’s one experience of my own. There have been many, many others. My general impression has been that although the amount of out and out violent behaviour has declined somewhat, the assumption that a group of fans “owns” the carriage or the bus and have carte blanche survives. It’s a decade, now, since I followed a group of Spurs supporters through Euston Underground station, they destroying every light fitting as they went, leaving the tunnel behind them blacked-out in a rare, real-life experience of genuine stygian darkness. But only three weeks since I saw an elderly couple deliberately picked on by a group of (middle-aged) fans on Putney Station for no better reason than amusement.
And the racism is still there, although a note of irony is creeping in. I travelled home in the same carriage as a gang of Chelsea supporters a couple of months ago. It was one of those carriages that Southern have fitted tall, comfortable seat-backs to, giving you a little more privacy, and we were all ducking behind these as the gang emitted racist comment after racist comment. They got off at Selhurst, and as everyone else sat up and heads began peeking out once more, you could feel the surprise ripple around as we realised that the gang had been a multi-racial one, and it had all been bizarre but nevertheless friendly banter.

But as I say, I still feel apprehensive, and wonder how I would feel were I of a different skin colour. Worse, I expect – worse enough to give up and buy a subscription to Sky Sports.

8 Replies to “The Ball is Round: The Crowd is White”

  1. Isn’t there an explanation for the low proportion of non-white people at grounds compared with their share of the populaton contained in the article, i.e. that the average age of supporters has been rising? This might be an effect rather than cause, but if audiences have been getting older and more middle class then it might explain it.

  2. My hunch is that there are a lot of “little” reasons contributing to the “big” reason. That reason – the change in audience, if true – will make some contribution; it’s a question of how much. But then, after 50+ years of immigration, large numbers of ethnic minorities are also getting older, and more middle class, and that would also need taking into account.

  3. Matthew is right. The fans/wannabe hooligans and hooligans who went in the 60s, 70s and 80s have grown up. They can afford the elevated prices. They aren’t middle class as I understand the term. The middle class came later. They can afford it as well. Some other points, foreign faces trigger anxiety. People are cruel. Cruelty in my opinion must be fought every time it occurs. Wondering what has happened in your life now that there are now so many black/asian/yellow/arab/polish/romanian faces around when there didn’t use to be when you were younger is a symptom of an anxiety that is part of growing older in contemporary UK. It might have something to with loss of certainties etc etc. Racism is clearly something else. Also people resent the effects of capitalism. Cheer up. If you want to screw Murdoch and Berlusconi (a really evil man) go to myp2p and watch free streaming of football.

  4. I’m trying to remember if the old saying asserted that the revolution WOULD be televised, or WOULDN’T be televised. If it’s the former, then it’s a matter of finding a good pub that has it on, I suppose.

  5. Gil Scott Heron sang that the revolution wouldn’t be televised (in 1968 what did he know – though this was at the time of the the screening of the riots at the Democrat convention in Chicago – revolutions only occur when enough people want them.) I expect we’ll get a phone call from an offshore call centre asking us if we’d like to join it. Are there stll pubs without TV? I don’t get ut much any more. Who sang that? By the way my assertions are only opinions.

  6. Actually I’ve decided I’m talking bollocks. Although the trend would be affected, I’ve completely ignored the fact that 70, 80, and 90 year old Britons probably don’t attend many matches, and the so profile of football-fan ages is less White British than the population as a whole (for e.g. non-White British is 12.5% of the population, whilst it is 16% of those aged 20-40).

  7. Before the advent of television supporters often inherited their allegiance from their family on geographical grounds etc. Doesn’t that affect things? I think so. Football as we all realise is not just about football any more or an expression of local pride/identity. Immigrants are more recent arrivals so for them allegiances are made in a different context. It’s a vehicle for something. Belonging? But who wants to belong with a bunch of shaven-headed overweight white men who make a fetish out of looking hard?

  8. This is the wrong place for this, but there was an article in today’s Corriere dello Sport ( available online) about penalties in whic Lippi backs up your argument by saying that instinct backed by the the psychological state is the only recipe for success. Domenghini a great forward in the 60s and then a coach agreed saying (he added triumphantly) that he always coached his players to run at the ball from an angle. (Of course they didn’t ask him why – instinct) Doctor, am I becoming opinionated?

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