…though an awful lot of it is exactly that. Last week, Portsmouth keeper and occasional Guardian editorialist David “Calamity” James used the occasion of Saturday’s visit to White Hart Lane to suggest Spurs fans — still fuming over Sol Campbell’s 2001 transfer to Arsenal — speak their minds, “as long as it is not racist or homophobic”. In the wake of Tottenham and Pompey’s 1-1 draw, Guardian colleague Barry Glendenning sensibly asks, “If homophobic and racist chanting are strictly off limits because they are illegal, are insults about club tragedies, players’ wives, children, mums, illnesses, extra-marital affairs or XXX-rated home movies more acceptable because they’re not? And is it really OK to scream “cunt” at someone who is taking a throw-in just a few feet away? Even if … well, he is one?”
There’s a question of interpretation here too. It’s not uncommon for sanctimonious Spurs fans to steam into blogs and chat forums to claim that singing about Campbell being big, black and liking it up the crack “isn’t actually racist”. What’s more, they nit-pick, that lyric portraying him as a mentally unstable HIV-infected Judas hanging from a tree “doesn’t refer to a lynching” – as if that makes the chant OK.
In recent seasons, Newcastle fans in particular have been much maligned for using the medium of song to call Middlesbrough striker Mido a shoe bomber on the grounds that such chanting is racist and Islamophobic. To these ears, Newcastle’s fans weren’t, as Kick It Out spokesman Piara Powar suggested, calling just any old Muslim “a terrorist, a shoe bomber or whatever”, they were specifically likening Mido to the shoe bomber, Richard Reid, to whom Mido bears a genuinely striking resemblance. However, others, including Mido and his manager Gareth Southgate, find the chant deeply racist and offensive.
My rule of thumb when it comes to abusing sportsmen is that I tend not to shout anything from the stands that I wouldn’t feel comfortable saying if I met them out doing the weekly shop. For all I know, the Sunderland fan sitting beside me a couple of rows behind one of the goals at Craven Cottage earlier this season might employ the same policy, but would have no problem following Mark Schwarzer around Asda for 90 minutes shouting “You butter-fingered Aussie wanker, I shagged your wife last night.”