Of all the reaction involving West Ham supporters’ disgraceful behaviour at White Hart Lane, I don’t think I’ll ever read as good, and simple, account of the broader situation as Jacob Steinberg’s. Some of us on the daily, “Let’s write nine hundred posts a day” beat have become a little war-weary of this type of story. In the end, you just long to get back to talking about the circles on the diagram.
Steinberg however, himself a West Ham supporter, unflinchingly points to the simple, unassailable ugliness here:
Football is a working-class sport and its blokiness means that people do not want to be seen as a grass or a snitch. You could tell a steward but chances are people will know and that creates its own problems. Ultimately is it worth the hassle? How do you reason with someone who thinks that the industrialised murder of six million Jews is an acceptable way to score points against Tottenham fans?
Yet it needs people to be brave enough to stand up to this. It is no good doing nothing during the match and then taking to the internet to write it off as a minority action afterwards, because the whole club is tarred by association. It is no good to claim these people are not true West Ham fans, because that is merely a semantic debate which moves the goalposts.
And that’s what this has to be, sadly. A numbers game. A core decent element shouting down the rotten element. We don’t need idiotic sophistry involving intentions (“It’s not actual Jews they’re getting at, just Spurs fans”), or apologies about social class. Moreover, we don’t need this behaviour characterized, in the manner of the Daily Mail, as the result of a collection of “morons” who “don’t know history.”
The West Ham fans guilty of chanting “You’re getting gassed in the morning” knew exactly what they’re doing, and likely know the history as well or even better than you or I. Nor do we need, as Steinberg points out, the tired line about how they’re not “real supporters,” a description that is utterly empty (he writes, “They were at the game supporting West Ham. Sounds like a West Ham fan to me.”)
In the end, as with all racist people, you can only win when you open your mouth in protest, and you lose when you don’t do anything at all. There’s no kumbaya that’s going to get the world holding hands as one. All the educational measures, all the t-shirts, all the banners and yes—all the criminal convictions in the world can’t measure up to the cadre fans who say “fuck off” to these people again and again in protest, in the hope that this so-called majority of right-thinking fan will drown out the bastards for good. Reverting to the same tired tropes about minorities of fans and intentions and “they did it to us so it’s okay to do it to them” isn’t good enough any more. In fact, it’s part of the problem.