If ever there was a sporting intractable, a conundrum outside of the realm of rational thinking, it is the question of football terrace chanting. The chants are sometimes warm and amusing but more often, outright insulting. By definition they have to be. That much is clear. Who could imagine terrace chanting without that nasty sting in the tail? Tom Lamont has produced an excellent discussion on this complex, mainly British phenomenon. Football chants offend just about every norm of civilised behaviour, or should I say bourgeois civilised behaviour. And therein lies the rub. Some of the most biting rhymes are, I must reluctantly confess, damn funny. But they are funny usually at someone else’s expense although there are also some wonderful examples of self deprecating humour. For some weeks now I have been chewing on this. Should the chants (and the chanters) be condemned outright or are they, as ex-poet laureate, Andrew Motion argued, ‘a natural upswelling of rhythmical thinking and feeling.’ Motion continues, ‘the chants can have literary merit. They can be bracingly vulgar but they can often be very funny and sometimes quite ingenious. They are an aspect of poetry.’ One particular little offensive but catchy ditty that Tom Lamont cites as ‘really quite funny’ highlights the fine dividing line between humour and abuse. To the tune of The Lord of the Dance and sung by Man U fans, it embraces both their own Park Ji Sung and their hated of their Liverpool rivals;                Park, Park, wherever you may be               You eat dogs in your home country               Could be worse, could be a Scouse               Eating rats in your council house.   Throughout my teaching and coaching career I’ve always adopted a policy of zero tolerance to banter even remotely treading on racist ground.  To those who tread that path my response is clear. It starts with a joke and it ends in the concentration camps. British occupation of Ireland was made possible by a combination of brute military force and a compliant English population that dismissed Ireland and its long suffering people with a series of tacky Irish jokes. The Nazi attempt to eradicate European Jewry began with a series of offensive cartoons that portrayed German Jews as something less than human. The British National Party recruits at football grounds because the racist chanting dovetails nicely with their own racist policies. Remember it was only a few years ago that football supporters would make monkey chants and hurl bananas every time a black player touched the ball. No doubt some of the offending spectators would dismiss their actions as just a bit of harmless fun. I think not.  My policy of zero tolerance still stands. And yet I find myself drawn to something intrinsically humorous in that little Man U ditty. It’s racist, it’s bigoted and it’s hurtful and yet it arguably has humour albeit at the expense of Asian cultural differences and working classs Liverpudlians. Given that Park plays for United and is well liked, and that many of those chanting are themselves probably working class, it could be argued that there is a faint ripple of self deprecation in those lines, though being neither from Asia nor from Liverpool it is all too easy to dismiss the hurtful nature of the lines as harmless humour.  It’s no good. You just can’t intellectualise about these things. Football chants can be both offensive and humorous.  Full Stop.  Maybe a parallel can be found in the humour of Fawlty Towers or Till Death Us Do Part which both used offensive language to create a uniquely British humour. When you re-watch some of these episodes you aren’t sure whether you want to squirm with embarrassment and outrage or laugh out loud at the idiocy of British prejudices towards race and class. In the end its down to context and intent. The best humour is, in my opinion, always self deprecating humour. If you have to resort to marginalising some other poor bugger then you know you are on the slippery slope to bigotry and prejudice. The following few lines from Roy Keane’s autobiography give a players perspective on the so called humour emanating from the English football terraces and form a useful appendix to Tom Lamont’s thought provoking piece.‘Some of the things you hear from the terraces are really sickening. Racist taunts, chants about players’ personal lives, filth that makes you wonder about the people who come to football matches to sing obscene songs about the Munich air crash. What is this? Answer: English Football.’        End JPK 28/05/09 

Last Updated ( Monday, 29 October 2012 12:34 )