Hatred 1 Dignity 0 - a familiar score

The Collymore incident was about sheer hatred, pure, raging animosity against anyone who does not happen to be part of your 'team'
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The Independent Online

Could anything provoke quite such instant despair at the moral condition of English football as the sight of Stan Collymore inciting a mob of Leeds United fans? Yes. It is the sight of a mob of Leeds United fans inciting Stan Collymore.

Could anything provoke quite such instant despair at the moral condition of English football as the sight of Stan Collymore inciting a mob of Leeds United fans? Yes. It is the sight of a mob of Leeds United fans inciting Stan Collymore.

Talk about a soft-headed target. Examples of Collymore's psychological inadequacies are too many and too wearisome to recount here; enough to say that the likelihood of his doing something fleetingly brilliant at the opening of the latest phase of his long football misadventure was exceeded only by his capacity to make poison out of gold.

The Leeds chant was, though, fairly vicious even from a section of humanity which cheerfully sings of the Munich air disaster when Manchester United provide the opposition.

"Stanley's going mad," brayed the mob. Maybe, but he's not exactly on his own.

Bradford's decision to enlist his help, a move accompanied by a "public warning" for the unfortunate manager Chris Hutchings from chairman Geoffrey Richmond, is quite bewildering. Beyond, however, the desperation of an outgunned football club shedding its most viable asset, decent professional values, is an even more depressing prospect. It is the relentless brutalisation of what used to be a cornerstone of popular culture. The truth is that outside of the odd insulated executive box, watching a football game in England now more often than not involves at least passing contact with hell.

The horror runs deeper than even the single malignancy of racism. The need for a campaign against racism is not unique to English football. In Italy concern is growing rapidly, along with the growth of fascism in the north of the country, and in the last week or so several leading players have spoken out against the depressing trend. But the Collymore incident was not, at least in any central way, about racism, though don't be surprised if the eternally self-indulgent Collymore again raises the issue. It was about sheer unspecific hatred, pure, raging animosity against anyone who does not happen to be part of your "team".

So Collymore who, whatever you think of his behaviour, has recently undergone treatment for "depression," is yelled at that he is mad. George Graham is abused by Tottenham fans, who when they're not at football presumably lead reasonably rational lives, scream at George Graham for no better reason than that he was once an employee of Arsenal. And, as Michael Parkinson pointed out to a national television audience at the weekend, David Beckham has his wife categorised as a whore and cancer wished upon his young son. It is unfortunate for football that people capable of such evil also call themselves fans of the game. But then football cannot free itself from all responsibility.

Back in the 1970s, when Elland Road was closed for a month following a crowd riot, I went along to the game that followed the announcement of the closure, which was to start at the opening of the following season. I went as a fan, got on the bus in the city centre and spent two or three of the most disagreeable hours of my life. It was a night of herding and humiliation, of urine running down the terraces, of great swaying surges and breath-snatching panic. There was not much dignity to be had, and still less offered, and perhaps nor would there be until tragedies at Bradford and Hillsborough shook English football into the latter half of the 20th Century. The brutalisation just did not happen on its own. It was cultivated more easily in the slum conditions.

We see the legacy with horrible clarity every week now. We see the abuse of Beckham, the random booing of any opposition player. We saw Alan Shearer reviled at Ewood Park, where he was a demi-god for so long, when he returned to Blackburn as a Newcastle player in a cup tie last season. Shearer scored twice and said they were the most satisfying goals of his career. Such is a routine travesty of the values of a game which conquered the world with its beauty and its accessibility for all shapes and sizes and talents.

The pictures of the hate-filled Collymore and his tormentors were enough to make you shudder for the future of the game. They made utterly poignant the memory of those days when fathers took their sons not only to cheer the home team but admire the skills of famous visitors like Matthews and Finney. Once an uncle took a nephew to Chester for a game against Crewe Alexandra. It was not, even then, the high point of the nephew's sporting life for already he knew the terrain of Goodison Park and Wilderspool, the home of Warrington Rugby League Club and their mythic wing threequarter Brian Bevan. Why Chester v Crewe? Because Crewe had a great man playing out his last days in the game, the sleek winger Frank Broome, formerly of Derby County and England.

He did not have a great game but he produced an echo or two of the past and he was clapped on and off the field. He had respect. He had dignity. He had passed through, with distinction, a game and a life which had not learned hate.

That was a little less than 50 years ago, but on Sunday afternoon at Bradford it might have been a thousand.

NOW THAT the excellent young manager Alan Curbishley has been added to the pool of potential England coaches, it is probably time to say that the Football Association is on the point of lurching into farce.

Curbishley, Peter Taylor and Steve McClaren are no doubt fine football men, but their appointment as stop-gap minders of the England team, and a great listing of potential assistants from among former internationals who have yet a pick a professional team, let along prepare one for a serious game, should not begin to disguise the real and urgent imperative.

It is to install a permanent coach, who knows who he wants as his assistants, and with a brief no wider than the making of a decently competitive national team. Patterns for the future. Coaching continuity. Careful grooming of famous players without any experience of man management. It is all window dressing.

It is time to put something on the counter.