The footage, taken at Richelieu-Drouot station on the Paris Metro on Tuesday evening, lasts just 57 seconds. And, some say, it takes us back 40 years.
You will quite possibly have watched it: white, out-of-shape, so-called Chelsea supporters twice blocking a black man as he tries to board their train as they travelled to the Champions League tie against Paris St Germain. They twice push him off. A black woman standing beside their carriage backs away as they sing: “We’re racist. We’re racist. That’s the way we like it.”
This is revolting stuff: cowardly, horrible, and, let’s not forget, criminal. It shows the travelling “fan” at his worst; drunk, racist, and secure only in the like-minded company of other pathetic souls.
John Murray, the BBC football reporter, was first out of the blocks when he said on Radio 4’s Today programme that the incident seemed to mark a return to the 1970s. Others agreed. It was an understandable reaction. But really? Many us recall the days of Steaming In, Colin Ward’s fascinating account of life on the football terraces back in the 1970s and 80s. Hooliganism was a way of life: matches were military operations; both for rival sets of fans intent on battering seven bells out of each other, and for the unlucky police forces trying to prevent them. And racism was endemic.
In the mid-1980s, a few friends and I often met in the pub on a Saturday lunchtime. We would decide which top-level game we fancied, and then we’d toddle along and pay at the gate. You could do that in those pre-gentrification days, and we sometimes went to Stamford Bridge. Chelsea then had a young left-back called Keith Dublin. And the fans – a sizeable proportion of them, anyway – detested him. Why? Because he was black.
On my first visit, he was booed throughout – awful stuff: monkey noises, the most violent spit-flecked abuse imaginable – and his confidence, not surprisingly, was shot. I finally turned on the worst abuser; there was a half-hearted windmilling fracas; and a rather nervous truce afterwards. Needless to say, the police and stewards didn’t get involved. Nor, significantly, did it even occur to me to alert them.
So, no, we are not back there. And, in many ways, the immediate reaction to the footage is heartening. Chelsea acted swiftly and clearly; there is little doubt that these disgusting individuals will be traced and banned for life. The chances are, I would bet, they will be jailed too. Good riddance.
The bravery of their target was rather uplifting. He appears bemused but self-confident, and the contempt of the woman who backs away is withering. Bystander Paul Nolan’s mobile phone footage was quickly online, and has gone viral. Right-thinking anger has similarly mushroomed.
The most controversial sports autobiographies
The most controversial sports autobiographies
1/10 Tyler Hamilton – The Secret Race
Hamilton, one of Lance Armstrong’s key lieutenants during his Tour de France victories, made headlines around the world when ‘The Secret Race’ finally exposed the doping culture that defined Armstrong’s success and cycling in general. The book helped to turn public perception against his former team leader for good, and contained the most graphic and detailed depictions of sustained drug-taking in sport ever published. Key Quotes: ‘It took the drug-testing authorities several years and millions of dollars to develop a test to detect EPO in urine and blood. It took Ferrari about five minutes to figure out how to evade it.’ ‘I didn't say anything. Lance was on a roll now. ‘I'm going to make your life a living ... ******* ... hell.’’
2/10 Len Shackleton – Clown Prince of Soccer
The original controversial football autobiography was penned by Sunderland legend Len Shackleton in 1956. The book is littered with criticism targeted at the FA and former clubs but became infamous for a chapter titled ‘The average director’s knowledge of football’. The page beneath was left blank. Key Quote: 'Chapter 9 – The average director’s knowledge of football…'
3/10 Zlatan Ibrahimovic – I am Zlatan
The Swedish superstar has never struggled for self-confidence, and Zlatan channelled his absolute self-assurance to produce one of the most brilliant, bonkers footballer’s autobiographies of all time. ‘I am Zlatan Ibrahimovic’ intersperses sections sticking the boot into Pep Guardiola with gleeful anecdotes of his utterly bizarre extra-curricular exploits. Key Quotes: ‘Whenever life’s at a standstill I need some action. I always drive like a maniac. I’ve done 325 kilometres an hour in my Porsche Turbo and left the cops eating my dust.’ ‘One time I got dressed in all black, Rambo-style, and took a massive pair of bolt-cutters and nicked a military bike.’
4/10 Herschelle Gibbs – To the Point
The South African batsman’s career was littered with incidents of drug-taking, womanising and racism, so his book was always going to arouse controversy. ‘To the Point’ vividly depicted his drink and drug abuse and orgies involving Gibbs and his international team-mates, as well as some customary mud-slinging over cliques of senior players (sound familiar, KP?). Key Quote: (subtly depicting a night on a tour of Australia in 1997/98) ‘It was one fat party. From mid-evening to the next afternoon. I enjoyed the company of … let’s say, more than one woman.’
5/10 Sean Long – Longy: Booze, Brawls, Sex and Scandal
Long, a mainstay of the all-conquering St Helens team of the late 90s and early 2000s, had his career tainted by a three-month ban for betting on his team to lose to Bradford Bulls in 2004. His book lived up to its straightforward title: beyond lifting the lid on a betting culture that pervaded rugby league, the book is awash with anecdotes of extraordinary drinking and seedy sexual encounters. Key Quote: ‘Me and Glees [Martin Gleeson] got our heads together and decided to bet on Bradford to win.’
6/10 Andre Agassi – Open
Agassi’s revealing memoir lifted the lid on his uncompromising upbringing and a career spent riddled with insecurities. Perhaps most notoriously, ‘Open’ included the revelation that Agassi used crystal meth throughout 1997 when his career was in a lull, leading to the star lying to avoid a drugs ban. Key Quotes: ‘I play tennis for a living even though I hate tennis, hate it with a dark and secret passion and always have.’ ‘As if they're coming out of someone else's mouth, I hear these words: You know what? **** it. Yeah. Let's get high.’
AFP PHOTO/Glyn Kirk
7/10 Paolo Di Canio – Paolo Di Canio: The Autobiography
Di Canio has always been, to put it mildly, a tad eccentric. Fortunately, he refused to hold back in his book, written in 2000, which contains everything from barmy tales of stabbing his brother in the back (literally, with a fork) to an impassioned defence of fascist dictator Benito Mussolini, which later caused him trouble as manager of Swindon and Sunderland. Key Quote: ‘I am fascinated by Mussolini. I think he was a deeply misunderstood individual. He deceived people. His actions were often vile. But all this was motivated by a higher purpose.’
8/10 Paul McGrath – Back from the Brink
McGrath’s book, which unflinchingly confronts his difficult childhood, alcoholism and multiple suicide attempts, is one of the most troubling sporting autobiographies ever written. The tales of McGrath’s epic binges – he once woke up in a caravan 15 miles from the team hotel, and would frequently play when drunk – are made all the more shocking by his total lack of glorification. Key Quote: ‘I vividly remember the Stanley knife and the blood pouring on to the floor. Come to think of it, I remember the au pair's screams too.’
9/10 Paul Kimmage – Rough Ride
A journeyman pro cyclist, Kimmage won the William Hill Sports Book award in 1990 for going against the sport’s ‘omerta’ and revealing for the first time the extent of drug-taking in the peloton. The book ostracized the Irishman from former friends and teammates but forced cycling to finally confront itself –Kimmage would later become one of Lance Armstrong’s fiercest critics. Key Quote: 'It was doping, no mistake about it, but it was only pigeon **** compared to what some of the others were doing. It bothered me, but this was my last Tour and I didn’t want to go out of it after two days.’
10/10 Roy Keane – Keane: The Autobiography
Keane has previous on the controversial autobiography front, after his first book landed him in front of an FA tribunal for bringing the sport into disrepute. Mick McCarthy was one of many targeted in Keane’s relentlessly angry tome, but ultimately it was his expletive-ridden admission of deliberate retribution on Alf Inge Haalaand that landed the Irishman in hot water. Key Quote: (On Alf Inge Haaland) ‘I'd waited long enough. I ******* hit him hard. The ball was there (I think). Take that you ****. And don't ever stand over me sneering about fake injuries.’
Such racism is indeed less overt than it was. Society has moved on, and football, for a whole host of reasons, has too. But scratch the surface, and it’s sometimes not so far away. There are fans whose inadequacy makes them feel vulnerable abroad, in unfamiliar cultures. The little Englander can come to the fore: not surprising, really, that some Chelsea fans in Paris sang songs aimed at the French about the Second World War.
The supporters probably wouldn’t feel the need to indulge in such racist behaviour in London these days, even if some of them might think it.
And what are we to make of the fact that six of the 18 players Chelsea named on Tuesday night were black? Would any of the people captured on Mr Nolan’s film be unhappy if one of Chelsea’s black players had scored? Of course not, but possibly only on the “he-may-be-black-but-he’s-one-of-ours-so-that’s-OK” principle.
Supporters do like an Us vs The World scenario. Take Glasgow. Rangers are traditionally Protestant while Celtic’s roots are in the Catholic Irish immigrant community. Back in the 1970s, sectarianism was expressed in violent mayhem. Terrace chants had little to do with football, and there were hundreds of arrests at every match.
There were improvements after Rangers, under Graeme Souness, signed their first Catholic, Mo Johnston, in 1989, a more seismic event in Glasgow that year than the fall of the Berlin Wall. Fans who still believed in the idea of Orange supremacy soon found themselves cheering on a side containing a majority of Catholics. Success has a way of breaking down the barriers of bigotry.
More recently, though, financial calamity has struck, and Rangers were relegated to the bottom tier of Scottish football. Supporters believed there were forces out to get them. That has found expression in the old ways in some sections.
And into this situation, one return to the Seventies is being contemplated north of the border. After one vicious clash too many – the Scottish Cup final of 1980, where Rangers and Celtic fans fought on the pitch at the final whistle – alcohol was banned at football matches. Jim Murphy, the new leader of Scottish Labour, and a teetotaller, incidentally, is suggesting it is time to overturn this policy.
His argument? Rugby fans can do it; English football fans can do it; Scottish football fans in corporate boxes can do it too. Why not the working man?
Brave is one way of putting it; letting sleeping dogs lie might be a better maxim.
A final word on the footage from Paris. It is of course awful. But it does feel like the last-stand of the losers. And maybe that’s the biggest change of all.Reuse content