Written by Rhys Paul
The issue of segregation in football is something that has been fairly prominent in the media in recent weeks. One such article from the Evening Standard actually inspired this article. I cannot remember the name of the author – as like many commuters I discard the paper before I even get home – but it has stayed with me ever since I read it in Thursday’s (27/10/16) edition. What stuck with me the most was when he noted that segregation was the antithesis of the ‘Olympic Spirit’, something he continued by saying that English football in 2016 was sadly incompatible with that. The article itself was a response to the crowd trouble that took place during West Ham’s 2-1 victory over Chelsea in the EFL Cup. Not only was it yet another case of the media over-exaggerating everything bad about the club, but it showcased just how misunderstood the sport is. Segregation is a horrible word (mainly due to the history it is associated with), but in the context of football it is a necessity and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Imagine this. You’re on your way to a game. You stop by in your preferred pub(s) for a few pints before heading to the ground to collect your programme. You’ve been waiting all week for this game, but ten minutes before kick-off you take your seat next to a rival fan who you will probably never see again after the final whistle. I would much rather talk about my own team than force conversation about somebody else’s club. An Arsenal fan next to a Tottenham fan. Blackburn next to Burnley. Newcastle next to Sunderland. Birmingham next to Villa. West Ham next to Millwall. Everton next to Liverpool. The atmosphere and character of supporters would be destroyed. I cannot think of any sport where supporters are more passionate and that would be lost if fans were integrated. What’s next? Celebrating a goal against your own team?
Football is not the Olympics. Yes, West Ham’s new home is the former Olympic Stadium and, as a natural athletics venue, it is perhaps incompatible with football. However, that problem is with the stadium itself. At no point did the club promise to uphold the ‘Olympic Spirit’ by getting West Ham fans to sit round a campfire and sing ‘Kumbaya’. It is very different to Rugby and I’d even go as far as saying that football support is more deep-rooted than Rugby – I’ve never seen a Rugby fan have his weekend ruined by a bad result, for instance. We all have friends who support different teams and part of the beauty of the sport is ribbing them if your side gets a result over theirs. Bragging rights are a badge of pride and, whilst that would still remain, it would deprive fans of their collective joy after a 94th minute winner. Scenes and memories like that would never be seen again. We all love giving opposition fans stick and the back-and-forth chanting between supporters is something no other sport can compete with.
Segregation does not mean that football fans want a return to the hooliganism of the 1970s/80s, it simply improves the overall experience for everyone. Football is a passionate sport and tempers will invariably boil over at times, but why try and dilute something that is in the DNA of football supporters? Stop treating them like criminals and they might stop behaving in such a way. Segregation is not a depressing element of the game – unless you do not understand the passion of the game – it is fundamental to its character. It sounds like a punishment, but it is what the majority of supporters are used to and something that nobody who cares about the sport is calling for to end. The day I am enjoying a home game surrounded by away fans in the home end will be the day I know a part of the sport that I love has died – half & half scarves are bad enough as it is.
What are your thoughts on this? Let us know in the comments below!