I don’t understand what Glenn Roeder has done to West Ham fans to deserve the abuse that came his way last week. Roeder, who had nearly died while manager of the Hammers in 2003, was called “tumour boy”. “We wish you’d died 3 years ago”, they shouted. Roeder had waved to the fans of his new club, Newcastle. After the game, get this….he was the one who apologised.
The anonimity of the mob encourages behaviour that just wouldn’t be acceptable in normal society. So you get thousands of people chanting merrily about Munich, or Hillsborough. Decent, liberal people think up the meanest, cruellest possible abuse, and scream it out with the sort of venom that should be reserved for murderers, not football coaches, or people who simply follow a different side.
The boundaries of good taste were missing from the terraces a long time ago. I particularly remember Chelsea fans at Ninian Park in 1980. The shy, modest, beloved Welsh boxer Johnny Owen, was fighting for his life on a ventilalor in a Los Angeles Hospital at the time. “Johnny Owen is a cabbage“, chanted the visiting fans.
They didn’t stop there. “Aberfan, Aberfan, Aberfan“, they taunted. They were celebrating the death of 116 children in a Welsh village 14 years earlier. The chants had the desired effect. Long before the game was over, there were bodies being hurled over the back wall of the Grange End.
Cardiff fans were responding as anticipated. I’ve hated Chelsea ever since. If you ask me about Chelsea, I’ll tell you about celery, one man went to mow, and medallions worn around red polo-necks. Think Barry on Soccer AM.
Cardiff fans are no innocents mind you. They still chant “Gas a Jack” and sing other songs about the suicide of Swansea’s Welsh international Alan Davies in 1992. I have seen Harry Redknapp being taunted about the death of his best friend in a car crash, and I have seen firemen’s helmets worn to a game at Bradford, where a fire had killed 52 fans.
What does all this tell us about the mentality of the football fan ? Nothing really. It’s got nothing to do with football. It’s just an example of what can happen to the human being in the midst of a mob. It happens in war. Sane, civilised people can turn instantly depraved under the cover of an army. And sometimes, following a football club can feel a bit like that.