FOR large parts of Saturday’s victory at Stamford Bridge West Ham fans chanted “Chelsea are rent boys, everywhere they go”. Perhaps it is as a result of the Blues lack of atmosphere that the words were clearly audible both on the radio at the time and Match of the Day later.
Football’s Kick It Out were very quickly onto the case. Primarily thought of as an anti-racism group they claim to be a “campaigning organisation which enables, facilitates and works with the football authorities, professional clubs, players, fans and communities to tackle all forms of discrimination.
The group released a statement which read: “We have received numerous reports of homophobic chanting directed at Chelsea fans during their match against West Ham United on Saturday. We have informed the FA and reiterate our message: the ‘Rent Boy’ chant is homophobic and must be treated as such.”
Hot on their heels was a Twitter thread from the Pride of Irons, an LGBT+ group for West Ham fans who along with WHUISA and Hammers United are affiliated to the Football Supporters’ Association.
PoI said: “When you use homophobic chants you aren’t abusing most Chelsea fans who will be straight, but all gay fans whether they support Chelsea or West Ham… We shouldn’t be the club appearing in the news for homophobia, there are other clubs who have ingrained problems. Let’s not join their ranks. Be better. Be West Ham.”
Before taking a stand either way it should be noted the OWHWLY group are far from unanimous in how we view both the chants and subsequent reaction. However, legitimation from West Ham fans appears to fall into five themes which will be addressed in turn.
Diminishment: This runs along the lines of “Some people are offended by anything, it’s only banter.” This can be brushed aside fairly quickly – chants are designed to be offensive – the whole purpose of “banter” at football is to provoke a reaction.
Furthermore, the laws of the land on Hate Crime are very clear: “The term ‘hate crime’ can be used to describe a range of criminal behaviour where the perpetrator is motivated by hostility or demonstrates hostility towards the victim’s disability, race, religion, sexual orientation or transgender identity. These aspects of a person’s identity are known as ‘protected characteristics’. A hate crime can include verbal abuse, intimidation, threats, harassment, assault and bullying, as well as damage to property.”
Whataboutery: Several Twitter accounts have pointed to the fact West Ham are often on the receiving end of taunts that involves the word “pikey” – a term used pejoratively against Romany that is often used to indicate low social class. Essentially, this argument says, “You can’t punish this behaviour so long as somebody else is displaying another wrong behaviour”. It is fundamentally flawed. As everybody’s grandmother used to say, “Two wrongs don’t make a right”.
Free speech: We have observed comments from people complaining a right to free speech has been curtailed. A quick look at the law as above should be enough to dispel that line. However, it is worth pointing out that with rights come duties in exactly the same way freedoms involve responsibility. Your freedom to offend explicitly curtails another’s freedom from abuse. Free speech is not and has never been an absolute.
‘Rent boy’ doesn’t mean gay: Don’t buy this one, it feels like sophistry. The most common understanding is rent boys make their money by engaging in a homosexual act. Those that go with women are more often referred to as a gigolo.
Chelsea are a special case: This argument involves an understanding of history that is unlikely to have be digested by very many at The Bridge on Saturday and is best summed up by the first post on this thread. Unless and until everybody is aware of and accepts the definition, (an unlikely scenario on both counts) other motivations for the chant have to be preferred.
Conclusion: Condemning fans is a waste of time and counter-productive. We all loved the West Ham response to Chelsea supporters refusing to allow black passengers onto a train as it enabled the Cockney Boys to take the moral high ground. It was also very funny. How about we aim to maintain that position and display our superior humour and standards by keeping the rent boy chants away from the public sphere? After all, there are plenty of other reasons for taking the piss out of Chelsea.