By Tony Attwood
It seems there is a fight going on between football authorities and fans, over the use of banners in grounds. Many groups have seen this as a simple fight between fans who want to express their views, and authorities who don’t want these views expressed. It is, although there are side issues that need considering.
Stopping the expression of views has long been an issue in football. Indeed the definitive history of Arsenal FC’s early years tells of matches being held up or abandoned because the referee did not like how the fans were referring to him.
Chanting however now seems to continue without much intervention by the authorities. True, a lot of racist chanting has been stopped, but as I must have written here a dozen times, little is done about homophobic chanting by away supporters – even when the police and visiting club have all the evidence they need to arrest those responsible.
So, as you will gather from the above, I am actually in favour in stopping some expression within football grounds.
But against this I have always argued that within football grounds you will hear what I choose to call “the language of the street”. That’s how it is, and that’s what I want to protect. Not that I particularly like all of it, but I do find some of it funny, and as for the rest, it reflects the language that is used by some supporters, and everyone knows that you will hear such language at football games.
So most expression, by and large, I wish to protect. I am, and have always been, a total democrat – one of those old farts who told his children in their younger days, “your grandfather fought to give me the right to vote at these elections, and that’s why I have always done it and always will, as long as I can.” This blog gives me a way of expressing my own views on football. No one has to read it, but the fact that so many people do is, I will always admit, rather nice. Even if many of those who write in, disagree.
So back to the topic. There is the story doing the rounds that Man City supporters tried to put up a banner at the Ems complaining about the price of tickets. Now the press, in their normal way, are turning anything possible into an anti-Arsenal story. There is a suggestion that Man City fans were being exploited exclusively, but of course the price they were paying was the price charged for anyone buying tickets. The Arsenal fans who bought the tickets Man City fans didn’t want, paid the same price.
The point is made in the Guardian that the banner had “a slogan with no swear words or severe antagonism” in it. I might think that the slogan was wrong on some point of detail (for example that their club has cheaper prices because it is financed by a foreign country) – but I believe fundamentally that the Man C supporters had a right to put it up.
It is also reported that the arch-criminal racist Uefa recently fined Ajax €10,000 after Ajax supporters displayed banners “about the effects of mega-money in football” during a Champions League game against Man City last October. The banner had the motto “Against Modern Football,” which the Guardian says was, “beneath a cartoon of a sheik holding a bag embossed with a dollar sign, the image presented as a stop sign with a red line through it. Another slogan read “€80 for the away section is ridiculous”, and there were banners with offensive messages aimed at Manchester City, Chelsea, Red Bull Salzburg and Red Bull Leipzig.”
Uefa’s official stance was that the Dutch club was fined for “display of a provocative and inappropriate banner”.
Of course, given all that I have said above, I would work to protect the right of people to display such banners, and express themselves openly, just as I do here.
But… and yes there is a but. How would I feel if I didn’t particularly support the view on the banner, and it was hoisted in front of me, thus obscuring my view? Not best pleased, if I had paid a fair bit of money for my ticket.
But that is my only “but”. As long as the obscuring of the view lasted only a minute or two, (and assuming I didn’t miss a goal that way), no I wouldn’t mind.
The fact that the Uefa ruling had nothing to do with obscuring the view and instead says that the fine was for “display of a provocative and inappropriate banner” shows how Uefa is not only racist but also fundamentally loopy. Provocative to whom? Are they really saying that some of the executives of Man City or other clubs are going to be so outraged that they might take their money away? Hardly likely, but then again, if so, I think quite a few of us would be pleased with that outcome.
And as for “inappropriate” I can not think of something more appropriate than to argue against the insane way football is financed. Yes I wanted Theo to sign and yes I think his salary is obscene. (I never said that my arguments made full logical sense).
Of course there will soon be a further argument that says: “What if everyone bought a banner”. I remember some cretin who taught me at my secondary school using this “what if everyone” argument. It is stupid, because everyone doesn’t – and if they did, then one could change tack and do something about it.
Uefa’s decision to put itself down on the side of those opposing the expression of political and financial opinion, while failing to deal with racist chanting across its territory, gives us a very clear indication of what Uefa is. The tragedy is that the club of my father and grandfathers is aligned to a body that is itself aligned to Uefa.
- Woolwich Arsenal: The club that changed football – Arsenal’s early years
- Making the Arsenal – how the modern Arsenal was born in 1910
- The Crowd at Woolwich Arsenal FC: crowd behaviour at the early matches