The strange relationship between bigotry, football and Huddersfield Town

Updated: Dec 19, 2018

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“No-one cares about your mental health issues. You’re an attention seeking snowflake! If it’s so ‘hard’ why haven’t you killed yourself?”


“Who the fuck would want to live in Bradford? Full of tramps and Pakis.”


“Fuck off you mong.”


“The vast majority of Muslims want gays to have a slow and painful death.”


“When will you start to worry? Forced devotion to Islam? Mosque attendance? Halal meat? Being the ethnic minority in the UK?”


“It’s a nonsense, a rainbow (laces) led unicorn, fantasy world. Shove it up a blokes arse but not down my throat. I would criminalise homosexuality, not for the sexual acts but just for the sheer constant bilge they come out with and their stupid gay pride events.

“Nobody gives a shit. Discrimination against gays? Evidence please.”


“Refugees used to go home, now they stay and milk away. I would tear down their rights and change government policy to hard line.”


“Homosexuals are twice as likely to suffer mental illness or commit suicide. Is that because of mental health issues or might they be gay because they have mental health issues?”


What do all of these abhorrent comments have in common? Other than the fact that they exhibit highly offensive and outdated beliefs? The common theme is that they have all been made by Huddersfield Town fans either on Twitter, Facebook or fans forum Down at the Mac.


In the wake of the alleged racist abuse of Raheem Sterling by Chelsea fans and the homophobic chanting from the Town stands in the home clash against Brighton, it’s time to look at what’s going on with bigotry in football.



Why do these views surface?


Throughout the centuries bigotry has existed in one form or another. One group of people have always believed they have cause to dislike the 'others', or to blame another group of people for the ills of society.


Bigotry has been on the decline since the 18th century when Liberalism began to influence the thinking of Western Philosophers. Liberty and equality were the driving moral principles of Liberalism, and that idea slowly filtered through the social demographics.


Non-white and non-Christian people were still discriminated against, but eventually over time the idea of Liberalism reached every demographic in western society. Homosexuality was legalised in the mid-20th century, women were given the vote in the early 20th century and hate speech was criminalised in 2003.


However these ideas of liberalism were challenged in the 2016 US Presidential campaign. Donald Trump rose to the most prominent office of state in the world by espousing populist beliefs that directly challenged liberalism.


Economic and criminal problems in the US were attributed to the Mexican immigrant community in the country. This post-truth tactic gave a voice to those who hold similarly abhorrent views as President Trump.


Hundreds of thousands of bigots now had a role model who legitimised their racist, sexist or xenophobic views. If the President of the free world can discriminate against immigrants and women, so can the average Joe.


In the space of just one year in the UK, there was a 29% rise in hate crime following Donald Trumps election. More and more people are seeing a successful politician get away with promoting hateful views, and it is giving them the confidence to do it themselves.



Why is bigotry ingrained in football?


Firstly it’s important to clarify what British ‘fan culture’ is as it is often the go-to excuse for football’s apologists. When Huddersfield fans were accused of homophobic chanting towards Brighton fans, many brushed it off as just ‘fan culture’.


At face value, it’s hard to disagree with the argument of ‘fan culture’. We are all aware of the vile Hillsborough and Munich Air Disaster chants from Liverpool and Manchester United fans, and they are just two readily available examples.


‘Fan Culture’ in the UK is based on partisan passion and hatred. We despise Leeds fans, because they are Leeds fans. They must be horrible, disgusting people and when we play their team we HAVE to abuse theirs fans and their players for the entirety of the match. That’s football, it’s just what happens so we are told.


So is it shocking to see football fans make the leap from geographical hatred to racist, sexist or homophobic hatred? Certainly not, and here’s why.


Herd Mentality


In the 19th century French psychologists Gabriel Tarde and Gustave Le Bon posited the idea of a ‘group mind’ or ‘mob behaviour’. Since then Sigmund Freud, Wilfred Trotter, Malcolm Gladwell and a string of other psychologists have extensively studied the mental phenomena.


In essence, herd mentality is a situation in which an individual abandons rational thought to share the ideas and behaviours of an emotionally charged crowd. Does that sound familiar to football?


Obviously it does, and you surely have your own experiences of herd mentality at football. Have you ever seen one of your friends red-faced, brimming with anger and firing expletives at an opposition player? Did it shock you or did you just accept it? Would that person react in the same way if they saw that same opposition player on the street a few days later?


Highly unlikely. Your angered friend was likely displaying all the markers of herd mentality, imitating the behaviour of the wider crowd in general, whom for them at the time, were the wise authorative voice of morality and behaviour.



Anonymity


In a football crowd, on an internet forum and even on Twitter anonymity reduces the accountability a person believes they have for their actions. In a football crowd, one voice amongst a thousand eradicates any ownership for the words that a person is saying.


There is also little chance of a person’s reputation being destroyed, and so they feel free to behave however they please. One of the main reasons that people don’t frequently share their bigoted views, is the fear of the damage it would do to their reputation.


There’s no risk of this in a football crowd, unless you are a lone voice caught on a TV camera. On internet forums the veil of anonymity is even more important, as the vast majority of users have usernames that hide their identity.


“Terrier21”, “TownTillIDie” (fictional usernames) and many others may have utterly reprehensible views, but those views don’t affect the life of the person behind them. They are free to share their unpopular beliefs without fear of comeback from the real world.


Someone may call them out on their comments, or someone may even write a blog quoting their forum posts, but it will have no direct consequence on them as a person. The comment about Bradford and the reference to a ‘mong’ at the beginning of this article both come from Twitter accounts with eggs for profile pictures.


These people were completely anonymous when they posted these Tweets and as such, felt untouchable despite the condemnation they received on the social media platform.



Twitter Anger


When Twitter first launched, its USP was that it limited users to 140 characters, which has since been doubled to 280 characters. This limit inhibits users from explaining or expanding on their views and opinions.


Firstly that leads to Tweets been misinterpreted by the wider community, as complex ideas are often expressed in short headlines seen as sensational. Secondly when a user finds a Tweet that they disagree with, they are limited as to how they respond.


How does a person convey their deeply held belief that Bradford is not a nice place to live? They reduce their belief to its rawest and most noticeable form, ensuring their view is expressed and that it gains maximum exposure.


Forum vitriol


The Oxford English Dictionary definition of a forum is as follows: “A meeting or medium where ideas and views on a particular issue can be exchanged.”


A forum is a place of almost constant discussion, and Down at the Mac is simply a Huddersfield Town related forum. However, at times there is little to discuss regarding Huddersfield Town – either the team are not playing, or there is nothing new to add to the debate.


This leads serial forum users to discuss other matters and proffer opinions on things that they probably do not hold strong opinions about. How often do you discuss homosexuality, sexism in the workplace, Islamophobia or racism in your day-to-day life?


Probably not very often, however if you logged onto any football forum in the country, you would have the impression that you are in the minority. Through a combination of boredom and a desire to be heard, forum users espouse views that they may never have countenanced in their normal, day-to-day life.


They become a charicature of something that they are not just to continue the endless stream of debate and opinion on a forum.



What can we do about bigotry in football?


Discuss it, challenge it, expose it and question it. The quotes used in this article have deliberately not been altered, as we believe that showing them in their true form is important in highlighting the problem that we are facing.


We have also deliberately withheld the usernames, identities or handles of the people behind these comments as we don’t want to give them the publicity that they crave. We also do not want to incite a counter-intuitive herd mentality of victimisation against them.


You may be shocked by what you read, and rightly so as they are incredibly offensive comments. But that’s the point of this article, you should be shocked by those comments and you should be offended.


These are comments from people we consider to be our peers on a Saturday afternoon, and people who claim to represent our club. These people should be challenged on their views. Why are they chanting about gay people at a football match? Do they actually hate gay people? Do they realise the harm that their actions have on a widely discriminated against demographic?


Probably not, and that’s why it is the responsibility of all of us to help in reducing the levels of bigotry in the game that we love and in society in general. The next time you encounter someone with these views either in person or online, don’t angrily confront them.


This will only serve to legitimise, in their minds, the views that they hold. Instead challenge them on their views, always ask why. It is worthy to note that most of the comments mentioned at the start of this article were dealt with in this manner by the majority on Twitter and Down at the Mac, unfortunately this is not always the case.


We will leave you with the words of Nelson Mandela to ponder on;


"No-one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background or his religion. People learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite."



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