Just about the last football club I would expect to appear in the national media in the context of a case of racism is Norwich City, yet, thanks to the efforts of one idiot at the Emirates who thought it okay to racially abuse boxer Anthony Ogogo, apparently on the grounds that he thought he was an Arsenal fan (as if that justifies anything), that’s what happened this week.
At the time of writing the perpetrator hasn’t been identified even though there must be plenty of people who witnessed the incident and are well aware of his identity, and that’s what inspired me to write this piece, as it ties in with a recent experience of my own.
I think, having grown up in the 70s when monkey noises and bananas being thrown onto pitches at black players were treated as normal behaviour, that the game has made great strides in eradicating both racist and homophobic abuse, and I should say before going any further that I have rarely encountered any issues with City fans. It would be naïve however to pretend that they never occur.
The club must take a great deal of credit for the fact that they have long had a zero-tolerance policy on any form of abuse or discrimination and have backed up their words with actions when the need has arisen. The work of Proud Canaries, who we are delighted to work closely with at the Canaries Trust, is also worthy of high praise.
However, the Ogogo incident, and apparent code of omertà amongst those who witnessed it follows a worrying series of incidents on social media in the last fortnight that followed a City fan tweeting a photo of a man who he claimed had been persistently shouting racial abuse during the Hull game.
What happened next is what worries me. Several people tagged the club to make them aware of the photo and were followed by a number of tweets that not only criticised anyone reporting fellow fans, but also contained veiled, and not so veiled, threats. At least one of these, which read “Snitches get stitches”, was addressed to a woman.
While the vast majority of fans were quick to denounce them, it illustrates a minority view which I find concerning, and which we as a Trust have always been quick to challenge.
In my view, homophobia and racism are issues which you either accept or oppose: there can be no middle ground, and if you don’t condemn them and identify those who promote them then you are tacitly condoning them.
However, actively attempting to dissuade people from reporting them is even worse, and I ended up speaking to the police myself this week after a couple of incidents.
First of all, someone took it upon themselves to search all the tweets I have made since 2011, using discriminatory key words, in the hope of finding something with which to undermine my part in the Trust’s strong public stance against homophobia and racism.
However, this was topped on the morning of the derby when I was sent a photograph (again via Twitter) of derogatory stickers bearing my photo in the away pub at Ipswich. Not only that, but the photo used wasn’t one that was freely available on my twitter profile or EDP column header. It was, in fact, taken from my business website.
That’s relevant because I keep my business life totally separate from my involvement in football and it would have taken someone quite a bit of digging to find a link between the two. While I feel quite honoured that someone would go to so much trouble to belittle me, I do find it slightly sinister as well.
I would like to think that this is down to people who misguidedly think that a sense of loyalty to fellow fans should override everything else, but the events of the last week suggest that there may be something darker at work.
It certainly won’t stop me from continuing to speak up on this issue and I will always strongly encourage anyone who witnesses abuse to report it, because, as John Stuart Mill so aptly put it “Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing.”
If you’re worried about drawing attention to yourself by speaking to a steward you can report anonymously in a number of ways: via the club’s or Kick It Out’s websites, the Kick It Out phone app or by contacting us at the Trust (www.canariestrust.org).
No-one wants to remove the passion from football matches, but people should be able to go without feeling threatened or abused because of their colour or orientation and we all have a responsibility to make sure that remains the case.