Going into an away end is a brilliant experience. It’s edgy. It’s loud. It’s knowing nods to strangers around you when you see their black and white scarf. It’s the anticipation of seeing something unique. It’s the best thing about being a football fan in my opinion. You and us, against the world. In our own little corner of your shitty town.
It also gives you a licence to do things you can’t do Monday to Friday. I can’t go to work and call someone a wanker, for example. I can be in a football ground and do it though. It’s actively encouraged, if anything. Football fans are famously funny too. Gallows humour. Quick quips and chants to outdo an opposition fan or chant. Hearing “Mike Ashley, he’s coming for you” at Stamford Bridge yesterday was just that. Funny, quick, nuanced.
— True Faith: Newcastle United Fanzine and Podcast (@tfNUFC) March 16, 2022
Do you know what isn’t any of those things? Carrying a Saudi Arabian flag at a match. Chanting “Geordie boys, on a bender, Abramovic is a war offender”. Don’t say this is about football, not our owners, when someone asks, and then carry around Ukrainian flags and sing about someone being a war criminal. Don’t ignore the issue when it’s about you and us, but then try and stoke fires in relation to others.
You’re of course free to do those things at a football match. We have free speech in the UK and it’s great. That’s what allowed a Chelsea fan to walk past me at a queue to get a burger yesterday singing Abramovic’s name. It’s what entitled me to call him a bell-end and the lads in front of me to tell him to “shut up – there’s a war going on”.
Football fans aren’t responsible for geopolitics. It’s not why we are football fans. What you can be, and should be responsible for in this day and age, is being aware. Aware of what’s happening in the world. Aware that carrying a Saudi Arabian flag to a football match is fucking stupid. Aware of how it looks and how it impacts the club. Aware that taking photos with it outside the ground is mindless. Aware that Eddie Howe is being criticised because he dodged a question about there being Saudi flags in the away end. You did that. You raised that. You can’t then walk away and say “I’m just here to support my club – this isn’t about politics” if someone asks you a question you’re uncomfortable with. Or be unaware of how to give a considered response which doesn’t involve deflecting onto others.
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— True Faith: Newcastle United Fanzine and Podcast (@tfNUFC) February 16, 2022
You’re not being clever, witty or nuanced. You’re making what is, for some, a delicate and unpalatable situation worse. Nothing stands to get better from you singing about cash, war offenders or wrapping a Saudi flag around your shoulders. Spend the time and money you put into your flag collection into educating yourself as to why it’s an awful idea. What’s worse, is that unwittingly it raises questions to all Newcastle fans. It tarnishes others who really are there for the football. It tarnishes others like me who are uncomfortable with our owners but delighted with our progress. It’s a tough balancing act to “support the team, not the regime” when the stupidity of others drags me and us into political conversations and questions we aren’t there for. It’s not “banter” (the shittiest word in football) and it’s mindless. Do better.
I’m not here to be critical of us as a fanbase, pontificate about what’s right and wrong or lecture you on my political opinion because it really is a minority. I had a great time at Stamford Bridge. Drinking and singing and clapping and supporting that team we call United. I shouted things I wouldn’t shout in day to day life, or if I was in front of someone, and I’ve done daft stuff at and around football before. What I am here to say is, we can’t pretend to ignore our ownership situation whilst acting in such a naïve, and fairly ignorant way. It’s not everyone. It’s often the minority. But it’s enough people to be noticed and enough people to be attracting negative attention we don’t need or deserve.
Do what you want on a match day. Drink what you want and stick what you want up your nose. I don’t care. Don’t actively create issues though, through ignorance, on the pretence that it’s “banter” at the football. Get rid of your Saudi flags and try to generate a reasonable answer as to why football and politics are separate. If you don’t, these questions won’t go away. Your actions give windows of opportunity for the media, and give opposition fans and idiots online a reason to prod us. To show us in our worst light and that’s not right. We are better than this. We need to be better than this.
Dai Rees – @colemans_dream