The fact that Jack Wilshire could be facing a ban from the start of next season for asking Arsenal fans what they think of local rivals Tottenham Hotspur is absurd to say the least. It would be a whole lot different if he indulged in the anti-Semite references that are sometimes directed at Tottenham supporters from rival clubs, but all he did was instigate a chant that Gunners’ fans sing every week regardless of who they are playing.
From a supporter’s perspective, there is nothing wrong with it. ‘Banter’ is a word used too frequently nowadays to excuse abusive and/or bullying behaviour, but that is all it was last Sunday. There are some who take the rivalry too seriously, and sometimes you see the hatred in people’s faces as they scream abuse at players, which is disturbing, granted.
But some people just get caught up in the moments and away from the football arena they are friends with fans of Tottenham, Chelsea, West Ham etc… 99 per cent of supporters are pretty sensible outside the football environment and will not not speak to someone in a civilised manner if the other person happens to follow another club.
As I alluded to, though, some comments and chants are not on: anti-Semite references including the hissing noise rival fans make to replicate the sounds of gas chambers that killed so many Jewish people during World War II in order to mock Spurs’ large Jewish following are bang out of order and unacceptable, and should be severely punished. And the same goes for the mocking mentions of disasters such as Munich and Hillsborough, which are often played out by Liverpool and Manchester United fans
Being in the football environment should not give people licence to get away with anything, but they have paid their money and shouting at a team or player that they are ‘‘shit’’ is not to be taken seriously. Players on the pitch are not shit – that is why they are on the field of play and fans are not.
The issue of ‘role model’ comes up a lot when a player is seen by some to have misbehaved. There are two ways of looking at it: players at the top end of the game receive obscene amounts of money, so being a role model should be one of the compromises of this; but at the same time, most players are just lads, like you and me, from modest backgrounds who loved football, but were rather good, so were able to play at the highest level which, as it happens, is filled with money due to our mutual love of the game thus fuelling its popularity.
I subscribe to the middle ground that players should take a certain level of abuse considering how much more they get than the average person. In that sense, football is great in being about the only place where people on the so-called lower rung of society’s ladder can abuse the rich. Brilliant! But I still don’t feel that they have to behave impeccably. It would be boring for one thing.
Yes, Wilshire and the fans he spoke to were in a public space, but the ‘worst’ thing that was said was ‘‘shit.’’ If the fans had replied with ‘‘rubbish’’ instead, would Wilshire have been charged at all? It’s just a word that most of us would use if we dropped a spoon on the floor. Chanting ‘‘Tottenham are shit’’ and ‘‘we hate Tottenham and we hate Tottenham…’’ is just general stuff that is a given in the football world. A player inciting it may make it different, but it does not mean that any Arsenal supporters are going to go around Tottenham pillaging the place, burning it down and beating up everyone in sight.
So what is ultimate aim of the FA in this? To stop Wilshire or any player doing it again? But why - if the act they are punishing is not going to do anything else other than remind fans to sing ‘‘Tottenham are shit’’? If it is the role model rigmarole that is at the heart of the penalty then do they think everyone in society should say ‘‘at the end of the day’’ in every sentence they utter? Or take good ol’ rugby’s lead and sing ‘Sweet Chariot’ every other minute? Once again, it is the powers-that-be acting in the name of self-importance and perceived morality. Well, they have to have something to do don’t they?