The first thing British videojournalist Paul Nolan heard when he arrived at the Richelieu-Drouot station in central Paris on Tuesday were the chants. “Chelsea! Chelsea! Chelsea!” Then he saw them: a mob of soccer fans who had come to cheer on Chelsea Football Club at the Champions League at Parc des Princes. They were harassing everyone in sight.
“I could have gotten on that train, but it was so crammed with supporters of Chelsea, that I decided to wait for the next one,” Nolan told The Washington Post in an interview. They wouldn’t allow anyone onto the train, and things quickly started getting “very aggressive and very nasty. There were threats of beatings. They said they’re going to knife someone … and people were clearly very intimidated.”
That was when he saw a black man approach. All of the doors were closed save for one the soccer fans forced open. So perhaps thinking of “getting from point A to point B,” as Nolan described it, the man saw the open door and made a beeline for it. But the fans, screaming and shouting, pushed him off. Then when he tried to board once more, they pushed him off again. And again. That was when Nolan heard the chants:
“We’re racist, we’re racist, and that’s the way we like it.”
The scene that Nolan captured, which was originally uploaded to the Guardian’s Web site and has since catapulted across the globe, was blood-boiling. And Chelsea Football Club, based in one of London’s priciest neighborhoods, immediately condemned it. “Such behavior is abhorrent and has no place in football or society,” it said in a statement. “We will support any criminal action against those involved, and should evidence point to involvement of Chelsea season-ticket holders or members, the club will take the strongest possible action against them.”
Nolan agreed the scene was disgusting — but not surprising. He’s seen that kind of thing before in the United Kingdom. “It was a big problem in the ’80s when there was a lot of hooliganism in the clubs,” he recalled. “It was a given that they created havoc, and then it died out over the last decade. … But there is still a certain very racist right-wing element that exists in a lot of clubs. And Chelsea is one of those clubs that has all of those elements in it. So is this a surprise? Not really.”
The bigot has long found a home among certain elements of Britain’s rowdy soccer clubs. There’s nothing new about this. Decades ago, in the 1960s, skinheads were rampant among Britain’s soccer fans, according to a 1986 study in Social Sciences. They celebrated “traditional concerns of lower working-class youth, including their violent masculinity … and their violent opposition to outsiders and to any males who looked ‘odd.’ Along with ‘Paki-bashing’ and ‘queer-bashing,’ soccer provided an avenue through which skinheads could collectively demonstrate their masculine self-image.”
That hyper-masculinity at times has taken on a racist, homophobic sheen. It’s an effect that London journalist Ron Shillingford described in the soccer publication, Goal. Shillingford, a black man, grew up watching Chelsea and said neither the team nor its fans have shed its bigotry. When he was a teen attending games, other fans made up a song for Shillingford. They called him “Crombie Ron.”
“Oh Crombie Ron is colorful,” they sang. “Oh Crombie Ron is colorful/He’s a coon, he’s a wog, he’s a n—–/Oh Crombie Ron is colorful.” Then, on another day, when one fan became ill and cops rushed to help, Shillingford found himself brushed aside. Someone in the crowd yelled: “Forget that n—– and get the sick man out here” as others around him laughed. He said things have “changed for the better,” but he still contended it was “easier, cheaper and less hurtful” to follow them from a distance.
This element is borne out in British statistics, Futaa reported. According to statistics from Britain’s Home Office, Chelsea had more fans banned for racial or indecent chanting than any other team during the 2011-2012 season. Of the 23 fans banned for that reason, five were Chelsea supporters.
Then there are the notorious Chelsea Headhunters. In 1999, BBC journalist Donal MacIntyre focused a documentary on their acts of racism and violence. Two people featured in the film, whom authorities later called “dangerous men” who “relish violence,” were ultimately jailed for reportedly planning fights against rival fans, the BBC reported. Years later, the journalist and his wife were beaten in an attack widely suspected to be linked to his reporting.
And now once more, Chelsea fans are in the news for all the wrong reasons. David Johnstone, the editor of a Chelsea fan magazine, said the latest incident will further tarnish the team’s reputation. “Because of the actions of possibly half a dozen people on a Metro train in Paris, all the supporters are going to be labeled as racist,” he told BBC Radio Five Live. “I think the majority of Chelsea supporters are disgusted by what’s happened.”