Written by János Afánál. János is an avid football fan and splits his time between Hungary, England and Scotland. He has great knowledge of Hungarian Football and also helps to run the Live Hungarian Football Twitter feed, @MagyarFociLive. You can follow János on Twitter here - @lilakgillsbhoy. This article is of personal opinion and does not reflect HungarianFootball.com's views.
Firstly let’s set out that I have some empirical knowledge here, although not comprehensive. I attend 60 – 90 live matches per year which varies dependent upon team’s progress in cups, play-offs and European competition. Over the past few years I’ve watched matches in 30 countries but primarily this has been inHungary,ScotlandandEngland.
Like some of the people I’ll be talking about I too have a single biggest hatred, but in my case it is prejudice and discrimination of all kinds; be it motivated by race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation etc. Anything in this article which is deemed to be offensive by someone is down to the quality of my writing and expression, not any views that I personally hold.
Last Tuesday night I was at Gillingham to see my first love take on Crawley Town managed by the unique Steve Evans, a little more of him later. Partway through the second halfCrawley’s Dean Howellreacted angrily towards a section of our support for reasons that were initially unknown by those of us sitting more than 75m away. It transpired that one of ‘our’ fans had called him a “Golliwog” and a couple of their other players plus one of ours also reacted, though not quite as angrily as Dean. This comment was allegedly made by an elderly man, who was later identified by other fans and hopefully will be speedily dealt with by the law, if there is enough non-anecdotal evidence. From what I know so far there is certainly enough to see him banned from the ground for life. Quite rightly so.
The offender was probably brought up at a time when the term he used was a regular everyday word and not deemed offensive in theUK. It had been in existence since the 1880’s, was even the emblem for probably the biggest jam/preserve maker in the country and children had soft-toy golliwogs in the same way as they might have teddy-bears or dolls. It wasn’t until the 1980’s that the word was deemed as racist in theUK. That does not excuse him at all, no matter his upbringing he must have had his head in a bucket for the last 30+ years if he did not understand how offensive it is.
A few years ago I had occasion to write a letter of apology on behalf of fellow fans to Ricardo Fuller after he was racially abused by a Gills ‘fan’ sitting in the same stand as me. We didn’t need to apologise for anything we’d done but felt Ricardo should know that he had our support and to persuade him that most Gills fans are not bigots or racist. That person was ejected and banned for life.
Many years ago, at an away game, I heard and saw one of our female fans call one of our players a “black bastard” when he missed a goalscoring chance. To my eternal regret, although I was sickened, I did nothing. I was much younger then and she was part of a large and occasionally violent ‘firm’ so I guess that fear was a factor, but it does not excuse me. She still attends matches and I see her occasionally but have not witnessed any other prejudiced comments from her, maybe her viewpoint has improved. If I ever do hear anything then I would have no hesitation in going to the nearest steward or police officer and asking them to take action.
So this is England, where the number of racists and other bigots is much fewer that it used to be but is still a significant number. Every professional club has them, some more than others but they ARE there, just as they are in any form of life.
Hungaryis a good 10-15 years behind the UKin combatting these kinds of prejudice and there is an added dimension here. The “cigány” (gypsy) chant and variants are illegal if used in an offensive way but when it is a vast number of fans it is difficult for the police to do anything, even if they want to. The football authorities do fine and occasionally deduct points from clubs for chants such as both these and the racist ones, but that doesn’t really hurt the individuals. Until some individuals start to be singled out and prosecuted, the problem will remain. At Újpest there is a right-wing racist group that has gradually been isolated by most of the hardcore support. From being within the centre of the Curva Mildenberger they have gradually been quietened down partly due to the efforts of our “megaphone man” who leads the home fans chants and they now occupy a small section in a corner of the stadium. Their numbers have also dwindled so that at some of the smaller games there is little more than a handful. Black players still get the occasional offensive derision aimed at them but the problem has reduced considerably. The “cigány” chants have also reduced but not to the same degree.
Over at Ferencváros the problem is much worse. The country’s biggest club has the most bigots, but not just by simple numbers, they also have by far the biggest % too. Here it extends beyond the match and the opposition; they abuse their own black players at the game, go along to training sessions at a much less secure training complex and continue the abuse, run onto the pitch and confront the players at similarly less secure away stadia and worst of all have at least once got into the dressing room to give them the benefit of their thoughts and fists. One of the players had the temerity to fight back and was promptly dismissed by the club for hitting a ‘fan’. Hardly the message that was required.
As a rider to the above I should point out that I am an Újpest fan and as such do not like Fradi (Ferencváros), our most hated rivals. If anyone thinks it’s over-biased, I apologise, but the detail I have used is factual.
At Honvéd the problem is slightly different. They have a high proportion of Jobbik supporters (ie even more than Fradi and many more than Újpest.) Jobbik is the Hungarian equivalent of the BNP although more political and the third largest party at the last elections. Whatever the politics, they are known to be racist, anti-Roma, homophobic, anti-semitic etc. To their great credit the owners of Honvéd have done a great deal to “clean up” their home support even though it was detrimental to their matchday income but problems still remain, particularly at away matches.
Elsewhere in the country it is a microcosm of the above as is the support for the national team. When Hungaryplay the highest proportion of supporters are Fradi and then Honvéd fans. There are some Újpest fans too but they are more of a local district type team and as such are less likely to align themselves with the national team. At the Amsterdam Arena last season Tomasz (Editor) and I were appalled to hear the abuse that Elia got when he came on as a sub. Similar behaviour at a few other games has made me seriously consider sitting in the main stand with neutrals/home fans at future away games.
The anti-Jewish songs in Hungary have reduced considerably, even before MTK’s relegation from the top tier. Indeed it may well now be true that these chants are more prevalent at a Tottenham game, or possibly Fulham, than at a game in Hungary. Comparing the cigány/Roma stuff is different because whilst it can be considered illegal in Hungary, the use of gipsy/pikey in England is in regular use without legal challenge. It is somewhat bizarre that at Gillingham we even have “Proud to be a Pikey” t-shirts and sing about that at games if the opposition sing something about it at us. Of course the words black, Jewish, gay, gipsy etc are descriptive terms and it is the phrases that they are included in which can make them offensive and illegal but that doesn’t seem to apply to the latter in England.
Up in Scotland it is a whole different ball-game, it is religion first, second and last that counts. Having been to scores of games there I can say that I have never heard a single offensive comment about black, Asian, Jewish or gay players…..or even English come to that. A quick diversion to the afore mentioned Steve Evans – he is widely reviled throughout football, is an embarrassment as a manager and a really unpleasant character but why when people abuse him does the phrase nearly always include Scottish? What has that got to do with anything?
When I go to Celtic there are home fans who don’t rate Gary Hooper (no idea why given that he scores shed loads of goals) but any abuse never includes the word English. When we play Rangers there is loads of abusive comment but look at Kyle Bartley, not only is he English but he is also black; do either of those figure in any comments - no they don’t. Playing for Rangers is what attracts it, no mention of race, colour, nationality etc.
The sectarian bile in Scotland is disgraceful with Rangers fans the worst (but then I would say that wouldn’t I) revelling in being “up to our knees in Fenian blood” or singing anti-papist songs and some other clubs also doing that when playing Celtic, though in their case it is often just to wind us up. Rangers fans are even more notoriously badly behaved when travelling outside of Scotland but while Celtic have a much better reputation in that respect our fans are certainly not blameless, singing “sad Orange bastard” and glorifying in IRA bullets for named Rangers players. Maybe it’s just that those other prejudices pale into insignificance inScotland.
At GillinghamI’ve hurled abuse at Steve Evans and sung songs about the opposition. If it’s an Újpest or Hungary game I’ll join in as best I can with some of the chants and I’ve sung many an Irish song both with and without the Celtic support.
….. but none of that has included anything about black, cigány, Jewish, gay, Orange, Asian, northern or Scottish etc etc.
Of course there are lots of other awful things sung and chanted at football matches that I haven’t covered. Man Utd’s rivals singing about Munich; Aberdeen’s gloating at Ian Durrant’s career threatening injury; chants about Sol Campbell and earlier Graeme Le Saux; Hillsborough disaster songs. There are numerous others
It is easy to generalise and I’ve tried hard not to. I have mates who support the Ferencváros and Rangers clubs that I dislike plus a whole host of Hungarian, English and Scottish clubs but none of them would dream of using any of the offensive terms I’ve covered. Those who are prejudiced are a minority, in some cases a pretty big minority, but thankfully a minority nonetheless. There is no place for these prejudices anywhere in the world not just sport, but sadly I believe that they will never be eradicated. All we can do is our best to reduce such abhorrent behaviour to the minimum level possible.
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