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TV review: The obscene language of the beautiful game doesn't surprise me

Why do they call it the beautiful game when it's all about repugnant behaviour?

Dispatches reporter, Morland Sanders
Dispatches reporter, Morland Sanders

Channel 4's Dispatches: Hate on the Terraces sent its journalists undercover to mingle with the football crowds, monitoring the abusive language they used and checking what the authorities were doing about it.

They secretly recorded appalling bigotry. We saw Millwall fans chanting that Leicester was 'a town full of bombers', whilst Chelsea supporters harangued the Tottenham crowd with hisses - meant to sound like gas chambers - then screamed that 'Adolf Hitler is coming for you.'

When the journalists, posing as concerned fans, complained to the police at the Leicester match, they were assured the racist abuse would be noted. However, when the same journalists later made a Freedom of Information request to Leicestershire Police they were told no racist incidents were reported that day. There was also footage of police standing idle whilst racial slurs were shouted within their hearing.

In fact, the only authority figure who seemed to speak with honesty was Darren Bailey from the Football Association who said clubs need to act against racism as they 'understand that it affects their business, they understand that it affects their brand.' So it seems that money talks, even whilst racism shouts.

However, I simply couldn't be surprised by the film for hasn't football always been this way?

Perhaps, and I felt the editors were aware they were saying nothing new, as the programme often tried too hard to shock. Each foul word of every appalling chant was spelled out on the screen in helpful subtitles and incase we hadn't got the idea that football was simply regressing to its old ways, The Clash's White Riot was softly played behind the narration.

Of course, football underwent a make-over in the 1990s, with baby-faced celebrity players and family sections and tacky gift shops but was anyone fooled by its supposed renewal?

I wasn't, so there were few revelations in this documentary, the central message of which was that football crowds contain a high proportion of angry, abusive, intimidating men and little is done to curb them.

I've known this since childhood. My Dad is a Rangers fanatic but was cursed with two daughters, so had no wee boys to train, who'd go bobbing along to Ibrox on his shoulders. He did try to convert his girls, but I was horrified at the thought of accompanying him to a game. Aged eight, I told him quite plainly, 'but Daddy, a man will hit me with a glass bottle'. This was in the late 80s, when images of hooliganism and stadium disaster were constant.

He tried to tell me it would be OK, and took me into Ibrox one day when the park was empty. We went out to the pitch and he shoved me forward onto the empty turf, telling me to play, so I ran about the pitch in big, looping circles. This isn't so bad, I thought. A nice big park to run about in. Maybe football was OK after all? I started to relax and ran over to Dad to get him to hold my jacket. But then fear returned. Dad's face had paled and he shouted at me, 'get that hidden!'

I looked down at my Tshirt. My crucifix was showing. My Gran always insisted I wear a gold crucifix but when I was handed over to dad on Saturdays, he'd make me tuck it inside my collar.

'Get that hidden!' he said and, all of a sudden, Ibrox was no longer a great stretch of green to play on. I dipped the cold crucifix back down inside my Tshirt but no longer felt like playing. What will happen if these people see my cross? The sun had gone in. Football was scary again. Men will hit me with a glass bottle.

Years later, I finally went to a game with Dad. It was uneventful but afterwards he took me into the pubs on Paisley Road and the same old menace was there. I was tolerated as I was 'Sandy's lassie' but it'd be unthinkable to venture in there alone on a match day. Football is still intimidating and so I just can't be surprised by footage of supporters being foul and aggressive. It's old news.

There is an unavoidable aggression which tags along behind the game, like neds at an Orange Walk, and the documentary was right to highlight it, but they were wrong in how to tackle it.

The presenter claimed that this is a problem for the authorities, not the fans. That is absurd. Every individual who raises his voice in an abusive chant is responsible. A slogan and a policy from some toffs in the boardroom will make no difference.

So the clubs do seem reluctant to act, as do the players. The only footballer who featured and who spoke about the abuse he had suffered was Jason Roberts. Exactly: no-one has heard of Jason Roberts. Was there no prominent player who was willing to speak up? Are they, too, intimidated by the fury of the fans? If so, then it's just the same old story, minus the glass bottles.

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