West Ham were relegated from the Premier League after they did ‘an Arsenal’, and let a 2-0 half-time lead at Wigan turn into a 2-3 defeat.
I’m sad that West Ham have gone down. See, I’ve always had a lot of time for the Hammers. I grew up round the corner in Hackney and Leyton, and for years I worked 5 minutes from the Boleyn Ground. As an Arsenal fan, I love the fact that West Ham seem to really hate Tottenham. The hatred is so deep, that a few years back, they apparently allowed Arsenal agents to poison the Spurs players’ food so that they lost their last match of season against the Hammers, thus allowing Arsenal to qualify for the Champions League.
Today’s papers are full of stories of a how the brawl at West Ham’s recent end of season ball started after striker Demba Ba was racially abused by a West Ham fan. This incident reminded me of a part of West Ham’s history that I’m less excited about. Ask any African or Asian person over 30 years old, and they will tell you that during the seventies and eighties, West Ham was a club with some of the most racist supporters in England. Africans who played against West Ham in those days testify that playing at the Boleyn Ground was a horrible experience. They would face boos and monkey chants and would have bananas thrown at them by the locals.
Down the years, many Europeans have tried to play down this kind of abuse. They say that John Barnes being subjected to monkey chants is the same as Gordon Strachan being called a Ginger b*****d. These people think that racism is purely about appearance, and that Africans are only abused because we look different to Europeans. So we should get the ‘chip off our shoulders’ (what does this actually mean?) and stop moaning. But the abuse is just the tip of iceberg.
Behind every monkey chant is centuries of political, economic and military domination of Africans by Europe. The fans who made the monkey chants are signalling that they are proud that “Britons never, never, never” had been slaves – unlike Africans. The Liverpool supporter who threw a banana at the African footballer in his own team affirmed his belief that he is a member of a proud ‘superior race’ while the African is a part of an accursed race of slaves. When that European player called an African opponent a ‘mono’ (Spanish, for ‘monkey’) he sent a message to him that his people are nothing but poverty-stricken wretches and they should be thankful that Europeans came and ‘civilised’ them with slavery and colonialism.
Racist abuse is a reflection of the ideas of racial superiority. European Capitalists deliberately constructed these ideas to justify their brutal and relentless exploitation of Africa and Africans through Slavery and Colonialism. They fed these ideas to the European working class to foster racial solidarity and to help prevent revolutionary ideas. Having accepted these racist ideas, the European working classes happily enjoyed the fruits of Africa’s trampling (the cheap consumer goods, exotic food imports and high wages at the expense of African workers and labourers) and they also willingly fought in Imperialist wars to ‘pacify’ the Africans. And these ideas continue to be useful to this day, because Europe has never stopped dominating and exploiting Africa. This era is what is known as neo-colonialism. So, far-right groups like the BNP and more recently the EDL have grown in popularity, while mainstream parties take every opportunity to attack the terrifying threats of (non-European) immigration and multicuralism.
I’m really glad that racism in British football is far less of a problem than it was back in the day. Clubs like West Ham have successfully stamped out overt racist abuse in the grounds. They have also made great efforts to build links with their local communities which have high numbers of Africans and Asians.
But the fact that the incident at the West Ham party surfaced on the same day that two men go to trail for the murder of Stephen Lawrence shows that as long as racism has a function in society, it will persist in football.