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England Fans Reported For Racist Chants About Rio… But Was It Racist?

Following Rio Ferdinand’s withdrawal from the England squad, this country has shown a bizarre overreaction, both in the media and by fans. Rio’s back troubles meant he went through a phase of playing a handful of games of season but over the past couple of years the medical team at United has managed to keep our defender in good condition, thanks to a strict regime.

Playing 180 minutes for England during this two week period was not part of Rio’s regime so the club put pressure on him to pull out of the squad. When he flew to Qatar the press erupted with criticism, as if commentating on the game in Doha was comparable with him playing two games of football. Roy Hodgson was suckered in to it all, seemingly going back on his assertion that Rio would be picked again in the future. After initially saying he was “looking forward to hopefully selecting Rio for squads in the future”, Hodgson said “we should just wait and see” when asking about Rio’s future after the Qatar story made the news.

England fans reacted angrily to Rio’s decision (in all likelihood, which was actually the club’s decision) and sang about him in both games. “Fuck off, Rio Ferdinand, fuck off, Rio Ferdinand” was audibly heard but there have been reports since that they also sang “Rio Ferdinand, you know what you are” and “build a bonfire, build a bonfire, put Rio on the top, put Anton in the middle and we’ll burn the fucking lot.”

After the game, Hodgson admitted that he heard the chants but refused to condemn the fans for singing them. “Of course I heard it. I’m not deaf,” he said. “But I’ve absolutely no comment to make on it.”

England captain, Steven Gerrard, echoed this sentiment, saying: “I think the fans have shown their frustration about Rio not being here. They’re entitled to their opinion.”

England fans have today been reported to FIFA by Football Against Racism in Europe (FARE) and their spokesperson said: “It refers to the racist abuse Rio Ferdinand received, along with his brother Anton. We don’t make the judgement. We send a report to FIFA but in the end its their decision whether they open proceedings or not. And whether they issue a fine or not.”

Were these chants racist though? Only the people singing them know that. A few months ago we were told that when we were singing about Liverpool being victims that we were singing about Hillsborough. It suited the media’s agenda at the time so they decided that all of Old Trafford were singing about a tragedy that took the lives of 96 people and ignored the actual reasons behind the chant. It is because of this that I feel reluctant to claim that the travelling England fans over the past week were racially abusing Rio.

Imagine Gary Neville had withdrawn from the squad back in the day. If the England fans were offended by that, would they sing about throwing brother Phil in to the bonfire too? Possibly/probably. The fact that John Terry racially abused Anton doesn’t necessarily mean that England fans venting about Rio were also racially abusing the Ferdinands.

However, Anton has never played for England, so you can argue it’s suspicious he got dragged in to it. Also, the “you know what you are” chant has strong connotations with racism, given that Chelsea fans sung in to Anton Ferdinand in response to the song being sung about Terry. In response to the claim that Terry knew what he was, a racist, was the suggestion that Anton knew what he was too, a “black cunt”. Of course, this is all presumptuous, but whatever those Chelsea fans meant, and whatever the reason behind England fans singing the same to Rio, it’s hard to argue that these categorically aren’t racist chants. There’s the strong possibility that some fans in the crowd did intend there to be racist connotations, whilst it’s just as likely that some fans were just enjoying giving Rio stick because they don’t like him and he plays for United. Let’s be honest, it wouldn’t be the first time.

“Phil and I went straight out to have a look at the Wembley pitch and were greeted by a chorus of ‘Stand Up If You Hate Man U’,” said Gary Neville in 1998. “We’ve had this abuse before playing for England, but over the last year it’s got worse.”

The biggest culprit in this ridiculous situation is the media though, who turned the non-story of Rio continuing with his plans to go to Qatar in scheduled time off in to an accusation that he had deserted his country. Even if you ignore the fact that Rio actually wanted to play, the amount of column inches that were filled with suggestions that his international career should be over and that he jilted England was totally over the top. They unnecessarily whipped these moronic England fans up in to a frenzy, leading them to believe they had justification for abusing Rio, when essentially nothing had actually happened. Players pull out of England duty all the time and then play in the following game for their club, yet they get no stick from the fans, but then, unlike this situation with Rio, the papers don’t spend days telling the fans that those players have done something wrong.

If FIFA do find the England fans guilty though, it will certainly put the England manager and captain in hot water, given that neither had any objections to those chants being sung…

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About Scott

Scott is the editor of Red Matters - 50 Years of Supporting Manchester United and an author of Play Like Fergie's Boys and Not Nineteen Forever. He writes for ESPN, The Metro and Bleacher Report. Follow @R_o_M on Twitter.

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56 Comments

  1. AndyD says:

    Absolute non-story. ‘You know what you are’ is commonly sung to any player a crowd doesn’t like, regardless of whether they are black, white, green, blue etc. So that can be discarded straight away.

    The second does not imply racism in the slightest. Anton is also not a popular character. Furthermore, this wouldn’t be the first time people have used threats to family members as a way of insulting someone. Hardly anyone knows rio’s other relatives’ names, so including anton makes sense.

    Not condoning the anti-rio vibe whatsoever, but to claim these chants are racist is pure media bullshit. This entire country is getting completely ridiculous – are we allowed to say anything anymore without being accused of being racist? Unbelievable that so many on here are so blind. Go to a few stadiums that aren’t OT, where fans regularly chant throughout matches, and you’d be able to twist meanings in order to label all chants as ‘racist’

  2. OAFC says:

    @ united forever.

    Why’s that because I point out what a bunch of hypocrites a large number of you are?

    This chant was anti Rio and anti Man U. It may be stupid but the people who sing it have every right to do so.

    Not everything is racist it’s just that a large number of people hate Man U and Rio , they don’t hate him because he’s black it’s because he let England down and is a self publicising wanker of the first order.

    You sing build bonfire and you don’t mean it it’s just banter, England fans sing it and they are racist. Who’s brain dead? You couldn’t make it up seriously.

  3. Bill Hick's Ghost says:

    Clear from your post…..you still can’t work out the difference. Brain dead.

    Rio’s a positive role model for young people. Sounds like you’re one of those jealous cunts, that likes to drown in their own negativity. Good luck with that!

  4. Age of Reason says:

    @ Bill Hick’s Ghost – Please enlighten us all as to what the difference is between a racist and an anti-scouse song? They both display rabid bigotry, prejudice and discrimination. None of those traits move human civilisation forward an inch. I find it depressing that someone would be so delusional as to think it perfectly reasonable to sing “the bonfire song” against one person/section of society but not against another. The most destructive societies in history have been full of people with a passionate hatred against others and an incapability to see their own intolerance. So, come one Socrates, share your wisdom. P.S. I find your username very ironic. Bill Hicks spend his all too short life railing against fat-heads like you.

  5. Jorge Curioso says:

    Rio Ferdinand, please STFU already.

  6. Bill Hick's Ghost says:

    Age of clueless

    You lost all credibility, when you called me a fathead. You’re either a retard, or 10 years old.

    Clear difference for me and any sensible thinking person.

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