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A Few Good Men

By: Todd Bontoft
Date: 27/11/2000

"I called Viera a black shit, but my insult was certainly not racist" said Lazio's Yugoslav player Sinisa Mihajlovic after the recent Champions League game against Arsenal. Of course it was racism!

Never mind the fact he is supposed to have called Patrick Vierra a 'shitty black monkey' how many players has he recently called 'a white shit'?

The excuses emanating from Lazio are clearly to hide the blatant racism of the player in oder to avoid punitive action by Uefa - a case of 'stupidity', 'antagonism', 'banter in the course of a heated game' may be their defence but it's hollow and only goes to hide the problem and not face up to the dangers ahead. Ignoring the first seeds of racism only leads us further down a very slippery and god-forsaken path that no civilised person ever hopes to witness or experience.

But there is compelling evidence that Italy, and not just Lazio, has a problem. Lazio has a large and significant section of 'fans' who last season idolised Yugoslav warlord Arcan and Italy's wartime fascist leader Mussolini, waved fascist banners, linked coloured skins to Aids, chanted Nazi slogans and a few years back desecrated Jewish tombs. A point that unless such despicable behaviour is trampled as soon as the first shoots appear one sees it gain an ever more dangerous level.

The average Italian is becoming increasingly shocked by the deplorable behaviour of some of its football fans. In an age of never before known awareness, education and understanding one would expect far more tolerance. The international community was treated to a global display of this atrocious disease during the recent Italy-England match when Emile Heskey was abused throughout the game.

Of greater concern is the little, if any, condemnation that befalls those that perpetrate such behaviour. Italy has had for many decades a powerful history of right-wing political activity and little attention seems to have been given by the authorities to racism in football. While other European nations have moved on considerably in tackling the problem, Italy's clubs still have their openly racist 'Ultra' fans, linked to far-right movements.

What takes some believing is the behaviour of the Italian goalkeeper that played against England, Gianluigi Buffon. Last season he was spotted wearing a T-shirt with the fascist slogan 'Death to those who surrender'. He claims he had no appreciation of the significance of the phrase and neither do I but how do you explain the coincidences of the Parma squad number 88 he picked? The number is used by neo-Nazis to represent 'Heil Hitler', apparently because H is the eighth letter of the alphabet.

So why bring this up, what has it to do with Town? Well I'm pleased to say that GTFC and its supporters can be proud that no such known elements are associated with our beloved club. But that does not mean that complacency should be allowed to take hold. A perhaps misguided - but still disgraceful - shout of 'pass it to the Nigger' from some individual in the Pontoon stand is a dangerous example of how things can begin. It seems that the guy in question received no encouragement, but if he had? Not only is he breaking the law, committing an act of open racism in front of children, but also he was in danger of besmirching and tarring the good name of the rest of us with such gutter behaviour.

Before we smile sweetly and say I'm over reacting, or indeed feel smug and superior about the problem facing the Italians, it is worth noting that there is a disturbing upsurge in the number of racially motivated incidents involving football.

A gang of neo-Nazi football hooligans is targeting black football stars and police are now investigating the 'English Volunteer Force (EVF)'.

The group has attacked rival supporters, most recently at Charlton's The Valley of all places and its literature bears a swastika and boasts that they are 'fucking racists'. Charlton is one of several clubs where black players suffered racist abuse last weekend. Fans, thought to be EVF, made monkey noises at Chelsea's Marcel Desailly.

But it's so easy for it to escalate and the recent FA Cup-tie between Ilkeston Town and Swindon witnessed several hundred home supporters abusing black players with similar taunts. This is in spite of the fact that racist chanting is a criminal offence.

But so far, like the low-life individual in Town's Pontoon stand it's tolerated by the police and stewards who are often reluctant to act in case they provoke a reaction from other fans. But the police, stewards, the clubs and players must act and must not allow what is still the odd isolated incident to become an epidemic.

Piara Power, a co-ordinator of the Kick Racism Out Of Football campaign, said: 'Racism is a huge problem in parts of Europe… But we shouldn't think that racist abuse and violence within stadiums has been eradicated from the British game. It hasn't'

Hopefully you will not hear or experience any such abuse, but should you witness any, please have the courage to tell a steward.

Evil thrives when good men do nothing.

Todd Bontoft

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