As if the result in Madrid wasn’t bad enough, Spurs remain in the news because the goalscorer has spoken about the abuse he received. Quite how Emmanuel Abebayor heard the song infamously named after him is surprising in itself. From what I hear from people who were there, the din at the Bernabeu was like nothing they had experienced elsewhere. A backhanded compliment perhaps, to the many thousands of loyal Tottenham supporters who tried their best to raise the team’s flagging spirits. However, there’s no joy or glory to be had in this loathsome example of terrace creativity.
Let’s get into this. It’s racist. It’s not nearly as overtly racist as the abuse that was hurled at black players in the 70s, when anything could be shouted with complete impunity. Clyde Best, the West Ham striker who was one of the first black players to make an impact in the old first division, was regularly racially abused by his own fans, for goodness sake.
This does not make it better nor excuse either the obnoxious lyrics or the obvious gusto with which it is sung. I don’t care about the degrees of discrimination: it’s an empty debate because it’s foul. It’s about a black man washing elephants. His father may have indeed washed elephants in the past but this is irrelevant because it’s used here in a derogatory way. The song doesn’t go, “Your father undertook a series of menial jobs despite the probable stigma and damage to his self-esteem in order to care for his family and give his son the best possible opportunity to further his footballing career”. It’s a wounding insult directly related to a skewed perception of his upbringing, distorted by negativity and cultural superiority.
Yes, as others have pointed out, his mother may well be a prostitute but I’m not sure that the evidence is conclusive. Ridiculous if I phrase it that way, nevertheless this is has been part of the debate on some messageboards. The word is used because it rhymes with Abebayor and is suitably degrading.
The Campbell song – equally sour and obnoxious. It’s homophobic and makes fun of an illness. It may be a mental illness but no on cares about mental health, do they. If he had cancer they wouldn’t chant, even though he’s hated. It also uses imagery drawn directly from the experience of black people in the south of the USA throughout the last hundred and fifty years. Sorry if I’m bringing up the history of persecuted groups here but in both the songs, those are the images that have been chosen. Sol wasn’t in a gas oven or under a train, obnoxious though those examples would be.
Abuse is part of football culture whether we like it or not. It won’t go away and I don’t want it to. In a recent comments section on this blog, when a piece was filtered out by Newsnow because I included a swear word, my dear old friend Ian noted that he had hardly ever heard me swear. Very sweet but inaccurate. Football brings out the sweary in me and I enjoy it. Let it all out. Not too much when kids are around, it’s under control, but that’s what kids will hear at a game and if parents don’t want them to, then deal with it afterwards. Children understand when to use those words and when not to.
So I’m by no means a prude. In fact, the modern footballer deserves some stick if they are not giving value to the fans because it is the only way sometimes to shake them out of their comfort zones, insulted by their fat agents and fatter bank accounts, turning up for the money and neglecting the supporters. Campbell is the classic example. He let us down so badly, he shouldn’t have an easy time when he comes to the Lane. Talking of the noise in Madrid, when he appeared in the first derby after his transfer, there was bedlam. Talk of a Spanish style turning our backs gave way to good old fashioned abuse and I joined in.
However, this is not an excuse to not only sing but almost to revel in chants that contain language you could not and should not use in any other setting. Neither is it an excuse to say other teams do the same to us. As a jew, the hissing noises through clenched teeth and masked by gleeful grins are wretched and deeply sinister, especially as no police or steward will do anything about it. The anti-Semitism from other fans is rife. That’s no excuse for the song.
I admit that I’m not sure where the line between legitimate abuse at football matches and songs like the Campbell and Adebayor chants runs precisely, but wherever it is is, the songs cross it. Way, way past. Moreover, debate about the finer points serves only to obscure the bigger picture. It’s often used by detractor of the so-called ‘PC brigade’, political correctness itself being a term of denigration that dismisses the efforts, sometimes misplaced admittedly, of people who wish to communicate in a manner that does not discriminate against their fellow human beings.
These songs are vile, nasty and despicable. They have given Spurs fans the label of being discriminatory because of the adverse publicity they have garnered. This deflects attention from the consistent anti-Semitism that surrounds us. Also, Spurs fans have a proud history of not being discriminatory. In the bad old days, Spurs fans didn’t have racist chants, they welcomed our black players, no bananas on the pitch. I genuinely can’t remember when I last heard an individual fan shout a racist remark at the Lane. Now this glorious part of our heritage has been tarnished. Please stop.