Being a West Ham fan, I have to say that I am used to disappointment. Perhaps unfairly, we West Ham fans tend to expect a lot from our club, despite the fact that only once in the club’s history have they been a force in English football. This was in the 1960s, when the club boasted names like Bobby Moore, Geoff Hurst and Martin Peters, who starred for England during the 1966 World Cup.
Nowadays we are more realistic. Staying in the Premiership is essential, but we also hope each season that the club can finish in the top half of the table, and even have a half decent Cup run every few years.
If this doesn’t happen, we can deal with it. We Irons are a resilient bunch.
What happens off the field is much harder to deal with. The despicable actions that took place at White Hart Lane on Saturday were awful to witness, no matter where you were. The level of anti-Semitism directed at the Tottenham team and fans by part of the section of travelling West Ham fans was abhorrent and beyond disappointing.
I couldn’t call myself your typical West Ham fan. I’m not from East London to start with. I’m not even English – I’m a New Zealander. Even when I lived in the UK for close to two years, I lived in West London. Despite all that, I am as loyal and die-hard as any West Ham supporter, and have supported my club for 31 of my 39 years. I like to think that my reaction to the scenes in North London would mirror that of 99% of West Ham fans around the world.
Unfortunately, like many clubs, West Ham has a small contingent of “supporters” who are essentially societal dregs who like to make their prejudices and hatred known to as big an audience as they can.
Well, this week they got their wish.
Like recent incidents in football involving allegations of racism, the anti-semitiic chants and ‘gas chamber hissing’ that were heard at the Spurs-West Ham match became headline news, creating far more interest than the match itself.
Should this have been the case? By pushing the incident to the front of the newspapers, has the FA given these lowlifes the platform they are seeking?
A few years ago I might have answered yes to this question. When bringing hate crime issues out into the open to help find a solution, there is always the potential to give its proponents and worst offenders some mileage while creating more hurt for victims.
To be honest, that is a chance we have to take. Any kind of hate crime cannot be tolerated in the slightest, whether it is in a political context or a sporting one. The social ramifications are too serious to ignore. We all know what happens in tough economic and social climes – the blame game begins in earnest. It is much easier if there is someone else to blame.
The FA and West Ham United need to find as many of the culprits as they can, and I believe they will. There have already been some arrests made and more may follow. I do think that they are still a minority, but they are a cancerous blight on a wonderful football club and need to be rooted out and made an example of.
Kudos to Harry Redknapp for his words this week. Too many managers prefer to stay silent on matters like this, preferring to live in a bubble where sport lives beyond the reach or touch of the rest of society. Harry knows West Ham and Tottenham culture as well as anyone, having managed both clubs, and isn’t afraid to speak his mind:
“We don’t want to go back to what we had with all the violence in the Seventies — we can’t have that again. When they get in a group it’s filth. It’s disgusting and people are supposed to stand there and take it. They chant at managers, at players and at each other and it has nothing to do with the football. They are cowards. It’s disgusting and I keep hearing it, but it’s not right.”
This isn’t what fans want to hear, but it is the cold, harsh truth. Until we face this and start dealing with this kind of behaviour then we risk undoing all the good work that has been done in football to combat racism and hate crimes.
We cannot let this happen, it is simply far too important.
If you’re interested in reading more on this issue, I highly recommend Billy Blagg’s article on this incident, posted this week on his ESPN blog: