Into the ears of babes and sucklings…

May 15, 2007


I went to a football match on Sunday. I took my 7 year old son. I haven’t been to a live footie match for several years-in fact since I became a father. There was a moving moment of solidarity with the McCann family. After that, the singing started. Here’s a sample of what the Chelsea fans were singing to their Everton visitors.  (Those of a tender disposition do not read on)

In your Liverpool slums
In your Liverpool slums
You look in the dustbin for something to eat
You find a dead rat and you think it’s a treat
In your Liverpool slums

In your Liverpool slums
In your Liverpool slums
You s**t on the carpet, you p**s in the bath
You finger your grandma, and think it’s a laugh
In your Liverpool slums

It goes on and it doesn’t get any better. Now I know that I wasn’t in the family enclosure, although I was surrounded by children. I know that football is an emotive part of may peoples lives. I think I have a sense of humour which is not especially delicate, and I have a more or less complete mastery of Anglo-Saxon vernacular, which I use regularly. But I don’t want my children or anyone else’s growing up learning to hurl ritual abuse at people. I don’t like them thinking it’s normal to be so tribal. I want them to be able to think as individuals, not as part of a baying mob. I also don’t see how it is very different from racist abuse. Not of course that I particularly like Liverpool myself!

Maybe that’s my prudish middle class background. I certainly don’t remember having the same objections 20 years ago. But I’m not sure I will take my son back to Stamford Bridge, at least not for another 5-10 years

Which is a shame because he absolutely loves football



  1. Tribalism is the very essence of football.

    Without tribalism football is a rational discusssion about the merits of players.

    Without tribalism the team with the best prawn sandwich would buy the best players.

    Without tribalism noone would cry when they lost.

    Without the tribalism in football this latent human tendency would be directed against people with other cultures.

    Personally I don’t do tribalism.

    I do however know that people need pride. If they can derive it from the feeling of belonging they get from representing their club by chanting abuse at the opposing fans and in turn shrugging off the abuse directed at them, then so be it.

    My child has better reasons to be proud, so I don’t take her to the football.

  2. I don’t like them thinking it’s normal to be so tribal. The problem being, of course, that in one sense it is normal; it’s the wat we evolved, to have a sense of “us-and-them” and to sek to stregthen “us” and distance “them” (probably by convincing ourselves that “them” are enough different so they can be excluded from our circle of moral consideration). The strength of the emotion is underlined by you little crack about not particularly liking Liverpool yourself, as you evidently weren’t making a comment about the architecture. You can you possibly “not like” a football team? It is entirely meaningless.

    Problem is, that part of our evolutionary baggage will quite probably lead to our extenction, unless we take steps to overcome it culturally. I don’t have proactical suggestions for what you could have done in this case, except as you effectively say to boycott the game.

  3. Sorry; how can you possibly etc…..can’t be bothered to correct the several other typos. I wish you had a preview mode.

  4. Potentilla I will work on preview. Don’t know if its possible
    I agree that it is in a way normal, and I have not expressed myself very well, but I do not want my children to grow up thinking that it is acceptable to be rude, offensive and disrespectful just because one is in a mob. If they are going to be so (and I have no doubt they will) I would prefer it to be a conscious decision. I also think 7 is too young to be exposed to an hour and a half of incessant swearing.
    I disagree BTW with yr comment about my comment about Liverpool. I don’t like Liverpool. Other places I don’t like include Birmingham, Swindon, Crewe, Yarmouth, Norwich, Staines etc. Places I like include Oxford, Durham, Manchester, Shrewsbury, Cardiff, Dublin, London (in moderation) etc. Its nothing whatever to do with their football teams. Its probably not rational. No doubt it could be improved by closer acquaintance, but there we are.

  5. I do however know that people need pride. If they can derive it from the feeling of belonging they get from representing their club by chanting abuse at the opposing fans and in turn shrugging off the abuse directed at them, then so be it.
    Well, maybe so, but I don’t think that the level of abuse should give anyone pride. Maybe a sense of togetherness, but its just no place for children. Without trying to sound even older than I am, I don’t think that football fans of 50 years ago had any less need for togetherness or pride, but I don’t believe this kind of abuse was commonplace. It doesn’t happen in other sports, so why is it acceptable in football?

  6. My IT adviser tells me preview is an add-on, but that the solution he found probably won’t work on higher versions of WordPress. There, that’s helpful isn’t it! I am just a rubbish typist.

    Don’t get me wrong, I hate tribalism. The fact that it’s to some extent “natural” is a reason to work harder at getting rid of it culturally. I agree with you about children.

    Who supports Chelsea? Doesn’t seem likely they have very many truly local supporters? Were Liverpool singing rude songs back?

    Your comment about Liverpool evidently was about the “architecture”! Sorry, it read as though it was short-hand for “Liverpool football team” (you know, as in “I support Liverpool”.

    Exeter is quite nice too.

  7. Yup Exeter is OK too!

  8. I don’t know where you live by why bother watching (at an exorbitant admission fee)a bunch of over-paid prima donna’s?

    Can I respectfully suggest that you take your son along to your local team. The advantages are several, including

    1. Increases an “attachment” to your local community
    2. Although tribalism exists in the non-league game, you rarely get beaten up, spat at or abused.
    3. Your son maybe surprised at the pace and skill seen at Hastings United, Northwich Victoria or elsewhere

    I could go on….

  9. Fair point JJ. Maybe that is the solution

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