Friday, 3 May 2013

Hooligans and Headaches: Sport's Universal Problem

With Yossi Benayoun announcing that (to the surprise of no-one) he would not be renewing his Chelsea contract when it expires at the end of the season, the English media took delight at rehashing a theme that reared it's head as recently as our last game at Anfield - that Chelsea fans chased Benayoun out with anti-Semetic chants and are the worst football fans EVER. Unsurprisingly, this claim has been met with much anger in the Chelsea community - surprisingly, though, it has it's parallels in another recent event at another struggling club, Major League Baseball's Toronto Blue Jays.
Chelsea fans have seemingly been reviled by everyone forever. The barbs and epithets traded between Chelsea and Leeds United are well recorded, the battles their ultras fought against Millwall legendary, and their abuse of Tottenham infamous.  Ollie Holt, renowned fire-stoker, Tottenham fan and chief sports writer at the Daily Mirror, as well as other writers, have pointed to instances such as hissing at Spurs fans as instances of anti-Semitism - mocking the self-proclaimed Yids by imitating the noise of a concentration-camp crematorium (an odious assertion).  More recently, mocking of the Ferdinand brothers has been held up as instances of why Chelsea fans represent everything that is wrong with football. With such vile claims seemingly supported by the booing and taunting of Yossi Benayoun, surely that must mean that the theme is true?

Well, actually, not entirely.  In sports, as in all gatherings of people, there are idiots, some bigger than others, who will always ruin it for the rest of us. Those who choose to boo players of other ethnicities or creeds are an embarrassment for both the club and other fans, and don't represent the club as a whole.  More importantly, the general condemnation of such behaviour tells you that the true heart of the club and its fans lies in the right place.  Besides, as Tottenham blog Cartilage Free Captain noted in their excellent article about throwing stones in glass houses, Chelsea aren't the only club to be supported by such loons.

Nevertheless, these themes define teams and, when they are broken, those who popularize them don't take kindly to being proven wrong.  Here in Canada, a recent uproar during a Toronto Blue Jays-New York Yankees tie caused controversy, with interesting results.  Travelling Yankees security were accused of throwing Jays fans out of the Rogers Centre in Toronto because they were heckling their team - a rehashing of the "big, bad American" theme.  After all, Canadians - so polite, nice and welcoming! - would never be throwing beer cans into the dugout like security alleged.  The front page of the Toronto Star railed against the 'Mercans, taking the side of one bystander who alleged that he had never seen the pair who were ejected (season ticket holders, no less) throw anything. Case closed, right?
Well, again, no.  The two fans who were thrown out admitting to throwing beer cans at the Yankees, and the Star (left with quite a bit of egg on its face) waited until page 5 of their sports section to note the conclusion of this sorry tale.

The moral of this story is that idiots will be idiots - in a crowded sports arena, from behind a computer screen, and even in the pages of the newspaper. Those who utter racist epithets are idiots, but those who make a big deal out of what is, at best, an ambivalence towards the departure of a certain player are perhaps bigger idiots, making the issue even worse.

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