Let’s not all chant; it’s a load of old cock…

Date published: Monday 25th September 2017 2:30

Does anyone really think chanting that someone has a 24-inch penis is a compliment? I mean, it’d be highly impractical, would require special tailoring to accommodate, as well as an extra gallon of blood and some sort of hydraulic jack to be of any use, even presuming anyone might even want to be in the same room with you and…it.

But joking aside, the Romelu Lukaku chant is inarguably racist. You can’t un-racist something because you think you’re, in some weird way, ‘praising’ someone. And putting my non-sexist feminist dungarees on for a moment, it is also rooted in the dominant, oppressive, patriarchal, phallocentric culture, as well as just being really bloody childish.

These fans can assert that “we’ll chant what we want” but they’d be well-advised not to go to the wall to demand free speech to sing a song about a footballer’s comedy genitals, because it’s not a good look, especially when he’s asked you not to. And though the anti-PC brigade are keen on telling us that you “can’t say anything these days”, as though that’s a bad thing, most of us think it’s actually a rather good thing.

When Chelsea fans sang an anti-semitic song about Alvaro Morata, the club said it would ban anyone found singing it again. So the fans changed it this weekend and, hey, their lives didn’t fall apart and their fun was not curtailed. Lesson.

Inevitably enough, those who sing such songs will deploy the banter defence. It’s all just a bit of a laugh isn’t it? That’s probably what the Manchester City fans filmed on a tram earlier this year singing about Spurs fans would also say about chanting this: “You’re getting gassed in the morning.”

Or how about the lovely “f*** off you f***ing y***. F***ing gas isn’t good enough for ya”.

It isn’t that long since fans felt justified in singing songs about Victoria Beckham almost as though she wasn’t an actual person. There are still the utterly horrific ones about Munich and Hillsborough. Others still about the Ibrox disaster. I’m told there is even one referring to the Bradford City fire and others about Ian Huntley and Harold Shipman. Incredibly, it is also alleged that some sang “you should’ve died with your brother” to Jermain Defoe after his brother was murdered. This is totally incomprehensible behaviour to me and I’m sure almost everyone reading this.

The litany of vile football chants is a long and old one and it against this background that the Lukaku chant has to be seen. One chant based on a racial stereotype allows others to feel liberated to do likewise and soon enough we’ve got an arms race of abuse. It all exists in the same context. Nothing happens in a hermetically sealed cultural bubble.

But I want to understand why this keeps happening at football matches. Not just here, but all over Europe where monkey noises, racist and anti-semitic songs are widespread and where players have walked off the pitch in protest at racial abuse.

Perhaps some see it as excitingly transgressive and a way to kick back against what they see as a middle-class, liberal, PC doctrine that they feel they are being bullied into accepting. Maybe. But even so, it is a huge gulf that separates decency and abuse. You don’t just accidentally take part in a horrible chant.

Perhaps it is a form of mental disturbance to want to publicly, en masse, inflict distress on another human? Perhaps it is rooted in self-hatred and worthlessness, in alienation and existential anger?

Thinking about it further, I was reminded of how confusing it was when there were kids at school who were cruel or nasty towards you when with their mates, but perfectly affable when you met them on their own. Is something like that going on? I find it all so alien and weird. Something deeper and more psychological must be at work. So I talked to a psychologist and asked her why she thought football was constantly cursed with this problem.

She offered the view that one of the attractions about the game, for some people, is that it offers the possibility to surrender your individuality to the collective. That becoming part of a herd mentality takes pressure away from you to make any decisions, other than to do what everyone else is doing. It is a regression to childhood where all decisions are made for you; a surrender of adulthood.

She had a test for whether you are keen to maintain your individual autonomy at all times or will easily surrender to the crowd dynamic.

The test was this. ‘Imagine there’s a big sale on in your favourite shop and you are queuing to get in. There are two doors into the shop but everyone in front of you is going in through the right door. Do you just follow them or will you be the first to use the left door?’

I answered immediately that I’d have no hesitation in going to the left door because I’d get in quicker and escape the crowds. To me that was the obvious thing to do.

But apparently, that is a choice that typically less than 20% would make in similar situations. Over 80% would just stick with whatever is working for other people, wouldn’t risk doing something different and feel that is the best thing to do in most circumstances. For them, standing out in a crowd is to be avoided. You go with the flow, not against it.

Her idea was that football chanters might predominantly be people who need to subsume themselves in a crowd identity and so even if that crowd is singing something horrible, they don’t want to go against it for fear of not being part of the gang anymore. Anyone who is seen as a threat to the collective is repelled. Hence the “we’ll sing what we want” contingent. The defensiveness isn’t about not being allowed to sing the Lukaku song specifically, it’s about not being allowed to have a free choice. They feel oppressed and misunderstood.

I thought that was an interesting perspective but when I told my missus, she just pulled a face and said “you’re overthinking it, they just sing horrible things because they’re either stupid sh*ts or bigoted sh*ts, or more likely both. You wouldn’t do it otherwise. You just wouldn’t”.

Maybe. But surely by understanding the psychology of the abusive fan chanting we stand a better chance of not just suppressing it, but stopping it even seeming like a good idea, which must surely be the outcome all decent people want. Because really, as it stands, so many of us are so very sick of this tired old cock.

John Nicholson

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