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On Saturday a Swansea fan was arrested for allegedly directing a racial slur at a footballer on the opposing team. Meanwhile a few weeks back 2 west ham fans were arrested for alleged anti-Semitic chants at West Ham versus Tottenham.
In a sense I was not surprised at all by latter. A few years back I found myself in the West Ham crowd when Tottenham came to upton park. I remember being shocked by the sheer umber of people making Hitler salutes and imitating the sound of gas chambers. Needless to say it was not the most comfortable experience for myself, and the two other Jewish guys I was with.
Nonetheless,we ought to be concerned by the application criminal law to terrace chants – particularly the public order act, under which the two hammers fans were arrested. After all the Public Order Act – which criminalizes that which causes “harrassment, alarm and distress”, could well be applied to a great many things sung and shouted on the terraces – a place where all participants understand that the normal rules of polite intercourse don’t apply.
This is not, for a moment, to suggest, that terrace racism is unproblematic, or that it is a probem that can be reduced to “impoliteness”. Yet the application of public order legislation to terrace chants clearly has the potential to go beyond policing racism. The increasing use of criminal law on the terraces is particularly odd given it is happening at a moment when hooliganism and football related violence is an a historic low.
The broader picture, here, is the increasing colonization of popular cultural spaces by the state. Pubs have been subjected to a host of regulations to make them function like beer-retailing coffee shops – not least the pub-killing smoking ban. And now football fans are faced increasingly with the prospect of having to account to a judge – upon pain of a potential prison sentence for what they yell.
One potential problem is the sheer in ability of Britain’s judicial authorities to grasp the real meaning of what gets chanted in the context of live football. It has of course normal for fans you have no intention of engaging in any physical altercation to engage in such chants of “Your going home in an ambulance”.
Let’s keep racism out of the terraces. But let’s keep the Public Order Act out of football too.
To contact Reuben email firstname.lastname@example.org