Football: Time to rid ourselves of racists

FAN'S EYE VIEW NO 244 leeds united
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The Independent Online
"WE ARE the champions - champions of Europe". It pounded, proud and relentless, from the half-time whistle until the players re-emerged. We bounced hypnotically, while the home crowd stared in bemusement. Shirts were removed, even in sub-zero temperatures. Cameramen were drawn to the fattest among us.

"Crazy," said Alan Green on Radio Five, "but at least they're not kicking lumps out of each other." So it was, at most away matches, that for 15 minutes we were more entertaining than the football being played: last season was George Graham's low-goal cold war against relegation.

Some muttered that Leeds United have never been champions of Europe.

It should have so been back in 1975, but dodgy refs are nothing new, and for many Leeds fans of the time, the chant is a proud nod in the direction of the great team denied controversially against Bayern Munich in Paris. The fans of the 1980s, who travelled to humbler Second Division haunts, sang it to remind themselves - and the players - that Leeds United was a great club. It still comes out in the face of adversity: 8-3 down on aggregate at PSV Eindhoven in 1995, it went on incessantly for the last half hour of the game. We went home defiant, still Leeds and proud of it.

Some also mutter about a less worthy past. Society's violence, racism and hatred was to be seen in Leeds fans when pride juddered into craziness, the malevolent sort which did involve kicking lumps. Those days are not forgotten, and neither have they gone entirely. On 7 February at Leicester City, the first 20 minutes was marred by a small, vociferous group (maybe 50 out of the 2500 of us there) leading the chanting of racist and extremist songs. Similar things have happened away at Nottingham Forest and Coventry over the past few seasons, but this time it was more ugly and noticeable than ever. For some, pride in the champions of Europe is corrupted deeply.

The club has decided to act, as in the past, by vowing to identify and ban anyone proved to be involved with "inappropriate behaviour". We thought our compulsory away game membership scheme, re-introduced this season at the fans' request, would assist in this, but it seems that seats cannot be linked to membership numbers: now that will change. There is also a hotline for fans to report instances of racial abuse: 0113 226 6117.

We have had our say in others ways, too. A web site (http://canto.mml.cam.ac.uk/leedslist/luar.html) containing comments taken from the unofficial Leeds United Internet e- mail list illustrates that many of us feel strongly about the issue and were appalled by what happened at Filbert Street. It's a small gesture, hardly the stuff of which rabid Star and Mirror headlines are made - but it's better, as they say, than a kick in the teeth. It also tries to spell out why racism is wrong and dangerous, and what each of us can do - exactly the sort of information Leeds United and so many other clubs should be providing on a regular basis in match programmes and free handouts.

Then maybe, just maybe, at least some of those who joined in with those singing racist chants would have been able to think better of it.

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