So, there’s this:
We took you out of Togo/We took you from the French/All you’re doing now/Is warming City’s bench.
Now when Arsenal fans chant that toward Emmanuel Adebayor, it’s pretty funny, right? It pokes fun at him and his rather obvious greed, and his getting what many would consider to be his just deserts.
Compare that to the reprehensible chanting at Adebayor by Arsenal fans during the Spurs/Gunners match this weekend past, chants that dredged up memories of a horrifying guerrilla attack in Angola during the last African Cup of Nations, chants which were answered by Spurs fans labeling Arsenal coach Arsene Wenger a pedophile, and you wonder where the game has gone.
There is a litany of shame in this oft-beautiful game of ours that sullies it to an extent that makes many sane people wonder why they bother. So when Atletico “supporters” chant “Oh, oh, oh, Puerta’s feeling dizzy,” in an attempt to unsettle Sevilla players. You wonder if the bottom will ever be reached. What must the teammates and family of the late Antonio Puerta feel, hearing such things. Is a football match really EVER worth that much?
Depends on who you ask, right? Our club has its role in one of the most heated, hateful rivalries in professional sports. For those who have never been at the Camp Nou for a Clasic, the hatred that washes from the stands when the Evil Empire takes to the pitch for warmups, is staggering. You feel as if you could actually reach out a grab a handful of hate, perhaps to save it for later, before deciding to eschew deferred gratification. Why, when hissing at their Preening Git feels so good. So you whistle. And you boo. Some enterprising fan even threw a pig’s head onto the pitch. You can find many ways to express your hate, and try to unsettle the other team.
But as with wishing a player was shot in a bus attack, making disgusting sexual allegations or poking fun at the untimely death of an opponent’s squad member, monkey chants are off limits.
Yes, this seems obvious to us in these calm times, where we sit here reading a blog while having lunch, or coffee. But in the heat of the match, when a chant goes up, the ensuing personal study of mob mentality and one’s contribution to it becomes fascinating.
It must be noted that the chants, in all instances, weren’t universal, or even chanted by a significant percentage of the folks who were attending the match. All the teams in question were very quick to condemn the actions, Spurs even threatening to ban fans who might be caught uttering such things, a task that verges on the impossible. It takes far more time, after all, to hear a chant and get to the seating section, than it does to simply stop the chant.
The larger question, one that I raised during the Busquets/Marcelo situation, is what role does silence play in the commission of vile actions? If someone is saying something, what is our obligation? Do we shout them down? Do we make it abundantly clear that we find their actions horrific, or shake our heads, while saying nothing, as if savages can be dissuaded by a simple disapproving glance. Or do we simply say nothing. And if we say nothing, what does that silence say?
At times such as these, when such chants begin, disapproving boos should immediately arise to drown them out, something that rarely happens. Yes, we’ve seen people look aghast. A couple was ejected for having sex during the last Bayern Munich match, yet the people who began and participated in the offensive chanting got to stay in their seats, and watch the match that they paid for. You tell me which one is a bigger affront to public decency?
We can’t let mob mentality get the best of us. Sometimes, all that it takes is one person to vocally express disapproval, to give others the impetus to take a stand for decency. In the mob that we become part of as live supporters of a football club, it’s important to believe in our heart of hearts that we are an individual human being who is part of that mob. And when the mob action becomes something dreadful, we have the responsibility to be the lone voice — the one that starts a revolution, or the only one who says “That is wrong.”
Doing the right thing often takes a lot of courage. Doing the right things when there’s the strong possibility that you might be the only one engaging in such behavior requires the sort of lion heart that enables ordinary men to storm fortresses. But does it take that much courage really, to simple have a basic, human reaction?
No! That’s wrong. No!
But it’s just words, right? Words can’t really hurt anyone, as the “sticks and stones might break my bones but words can never hurt me” chant erroneously alleges. Ask Kodjova Obidale, the Togo keeper whose career was ended in the aftermath of that bus attack. Ask Samuel Eto’o, who wouldn’t bring his family to matches because of the racial chanting and abuse that goes on in the stands. Words are very powerful things, improperly used. They might not break bones, but they can break hearts and spirit. And in the race to the bottom that collective attempts to unsettle the opponent often becomes, it’s worth asking ourselves sometimes: “What is this match really worth to me, to us?”
If nothing is sadder than man’s inhumanity toward man, this past weekend has been one of the saddest that this game has witnessed in a while.