On Sunday Manchester United battled to a point against the best team in the league with a dramatic last minute equaliser from Robin van Persie. In the context of United’s recent history, it could be argued that it was the best result of the post-Ferguson era. There were plenty of positives from the performance and even more from the result, but for me, all of the jubilation on the pitch at the final whistle was undermined somewhat by what happened off the pitch for the 90 minutes beforehand.
From the very first minute, there was something different about the instantly popular ‘conga’ chant which has been adopted in honour of Angel di Maria. What was different had, it turns out, changed the song into one of the more horrible chants I have heard in my experience of football. “Do do doo, Drogba’s got ebola” sang the Stretford End. Now, putting aside my own long standing phobia of an epidemic bringing humanity to its knees, any deadly disease seems a fairly odd thing to sing about at a football game, but maybe the fans were making a beautiful, subtle, elaborate point about Chelsea’s rotten oil money being a disease on football… If only. “Drogba’s got ebola, Yaya’s got it too.” The lines drew raucous laughter from the Old Trafford crowd, who seemed to be either completely unaware or completely unconcerned with the reality of what they were saying: The chant is racist.
I am well aware that the words ‘racist chanting’ seem sensationalist, but racism in football has never really gone away, and the recent incidents involving Luis Suarez and John Terry have brought it into sharp focus. Interestingly enough, the irony of immediately following the Drogba chant with one criticising John Terry for his history of racism was, of course, completely lost on the people singing on Sunday. This in itself raises an interesting point. I am not suggesting for a second that every fan singing that song was racist – indeed, that would mean suggesting almost everyone in the ground was racist, which is plainly absurd. But in this age of Vine and Twitter and the dreaded ‘banter’ which accompanies them, there is an audience for everything, and everything is forgotten as soon as the next viral sensation comes along. It is this latent, passive bigotry which is most concerning today, and it reared its head on more than one occasion in the Chelsea game.
As well as the racist chanting, there was an ugly moment when Chelsea’s team doctor, Eva Carneiro, came onto the field to treat an injured player. The response to this was a further example of the seemingly innocent but increasingly troubling normalised ignorance. “Get your t*ts out for the lads.” I mean, really. Carneiro is a doctor. She has a medical degree and a masters and has been the first team doctor at one of the biggest clubs in England for three years, and yet, in 2014, she was still subjected to sexist abuse on Sunday. Again, it is important to stress that I am not accusing everyone in the ground, or even everyone who participated in the chants, of being sexist. But football needs to grow up. Just because the ignorance is not manifesting itself as hatred as it has in the past it is not any less dangerous, and the culture which surrounds our game is threatening to undermine any attempts we make to turn football into anything more than a childish boys’ club. Every fan likes to think that their club is morally above all others, and now it’s time to make sure every fan tries to make it true.