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An inconvenient truth


Filed: Friday, 15th February 2019
By: HeadHammerShark


There is an issue that has been vexing West Ham fans this week...


"Seems like every time you turn around,
There's another hard luck story that you're gonna hear"
- Bob Dylan, "Black Diamond Bay"


It's been bubbling around for a while and finally came to the surface during our rousing 1-1 draw at home to Liverpool. You probably know what I'm talking about...yes, it's the huge issue of away fans sitting in the home end at the London Stadium. Time to dust off the laptop, say I.



That's not the current club crest, oh wait.


I've followed this topic all week as various forums and social media platforms have been awash with West Ham fans who are extremely upset about this. I keep reading about this great scourge and how we ought to be telling stewards as soon as we see anyone in an opposition hat, and how the club ought to be doing more to stop it.

I'm not necessarily opposed to that line of thinking, as I think it is a problem if home fans can't get tickets at the expense of travelling supporters, but I confess I don't see this as being all that troubling considering we struggle to fill the stadium. I've sat in the home stand at opposition grounds to watch West Ham on their travels so I'd be fairly hypocritical if I started objecting to it now.

But, no! The West Ham online community has spoken and we must have a zero tolerance policy on away fans in the home end. The answer to the question "What number of away fans is acceptable in the home end?" is categorically zero. Remember this number, because I'll return to it. Zero. None. Nil.

One would be too many. Got it?

Because West Ham fans are very clear on this point.


***

"Another head aches, another heart breaks
I'm so much older than I can take"
- The Killers, "All These Things That I've Done"


As I write this piece, the Official West Ham Supporters Board (OSB) are meeting. You might recognise the name because they were in the news recently when a member of the group, Nik Tucker, resigned from his position after posting homophobic and anti-Semitic images on his website. I have never met Tucker, or heard of the website, but I've seen the pictures and they don't leave much room for argument.

Those who know him speak of a man who runs a boxing club, gives his time freely to the community and doesn't practice discrimination. I have no reason to doubt any of that but it rather serves to highlight that decent people can still unwittingly propagate anti-Semitism when they aren't attuned to what it actually is.

None of this would be all that newsworthy were it not for the fact that Tucker had been selected by the club to serve on the OSB. The process for this involved individuals garnering a small number of nominations from fellow season ticket holders, writing a profile of themselves which was then presented on an anonymous basis to a selection panel which may or may not have included some former players.

That group then chose the representatives, thus leading to the possibility that Tucker found himself on the board because Carlton Cole didn't do a background check on him - and that, ladies and gentleman, may be the single most West Ham sentence ever typed.

Also included in the OSB is a guy by the name of Greg Smith, who attended the infamous Democratic Football Lads Alliance (DFLA) march in October last year. I have already written about that here and will return to it later. I continue to find it strange that the club don't consider the use of their image by the DFLA to be a significant problem.

What is clear is that none of the individuals on the OSB have been elected by supporters, and that the body has been set up because West Ham still refuse to engage with the West Ham United Independent Supporters Association (WHUISA). The latter is an actual democratic group with over 5,000 paying members and a committee who are required to stand for election. They are recognised by, and affiliated to, all relevant supporters groups, and yet West Ham continue to do everything they can to avoid speaking to them.

The OSB, meanwhile, has members representing such minority groups as BAME, LGBT and disabled fans, which is quite right and also others such as the West Stand, which is quite weird. I have no reason to doubt the good intentions of any of the members, but I am struck by what lengths Karren Brady will go to avoid sitting down with WHUISA and answering questions from people who the fans actually elected to speak on their behalf.

If you want to hear an explanation of what the OSB are doing then there is a good section here towards the end of the Stop!Hammer Time podcast, where Pride of Irons chair Jim Dolan talks about the good work being done. I applaud the intentions, but disapprove of the gerrymandering.

Now, at this point you may think that I'm just going over old ground, but where this gets interesting is how this news reached the wider consciousness. Nobody in the West Ham world knew about this until Tucker himself posted about it on his website, where he described his departure as being "by (cough) mutual consent...I suppose I am just one of those dinosaur fans who the club would like to be extinct", which is a strange way of saying sorry.

This was picked up by Jacob Steinberg of The Guardian, who has been covering the issues between the Hammers board and support for years, and then suddenly it became big news in the West Ham world. At this point; cavear emptor - I consider Steinberg to be a friend, even though we have a thoroughly modern friendship that has only ever involved us meeting once very briefly on a five minute stroll to the stadium for a home game. We have, however, exchanged messages and emails in the past, he has been very supportive of The H List, and I think he has been fearless in highlighting issues within West Ham.

For the crime of reporting something that the individual had already publicly posted, he was then attacked on Twitter and online. He was described variously as a grass, a Spurs fan, a blood sucking leech, a scumbag, a c*nt and received a number of threats both veiled and overt, and often dripping in anti-Semitism.

Included in this barrage were comments from well established West Ham social media personalities including West Ham Fan TV, who launched an impassioned defence of Tucker before revealing that they hadn't actually seen the posts in question, but he couldn't have put up anything anti-Semitic or homophobic because he was their mate. But this is an example of what he posted:



"Banter"


West Ham Fan TV have 13,000 Twitter followers, 43,000 YouTube subscribers and 16.5m views of their videos.

***

"Well a lot of people guess,
Some say no and some say yes"
- Billy Bragg and Wilco, "Airline to Heaven"


I want you to know that I appreciate very few people come to the 12th most popular West Ham blog on the web to get their fix of political commentary. But I'd ask you to bear with me briefly while I talk about Brexit. There will, I promise, be a point to it.

I live in Romford where we are, to coin a phrase, well Brexit. We are, in fact, so Brexit that The Guardian, CNN, The Washington Post and The Independent have all been to have a chat. As a Remainer, I feel I know how easy it is to label my neighbours as racists and fascists and I confess that there are times when I think my wife and I were the only two people in the whole town to have voted to Remain.

But here's the thing. Those of us who live here have seen great change in the last decade. Our schools are under horrendous budgetary pressure, the roads are overcrowded and poorly maintained, the train service to London is so packed that the new trains ordered for Crossrail actually have fewer seats in them to allow for more standing space, the local hospital had to take a £15million loan and be put into financial special measures, it's not terribly safe and the standard of our public services is dire. People had, and still have, good reason to be pissed off.



A picture taken at the Armed Forces Parade in Romford, 2016


And then arrived a referendum, like a gift-wrapped rocket launcher which voters could turn in one particular direction and fire with gleeful abandon as a way of venting their frustration at the people responsible.

To me, it seemed fairly logical that after years of austerity and slashing budgets that the people of Romford might point that rocket launcher back at David Cameron and the Tory party who had inflicted that hardship upon them. But at this point, our old friend cognitive dissonance stepped forward. Since 1974, apart from a brief four year hiatus in 1997 under Blair, Romford has been staunchly Conservative, to the extent that you could put a dustbin named "Blue Passports" on the ballot and it would pick up 30,000 votes here.

And thus, the referendum asked a hugely complicated question in a ludicrously simple way. And when the voters of Romford looked round for an answer as to why things had got so bad they unsurprisingly chose not to blame the people they had been voting for. Who, after all, wants to accept they might be complicit in their own unhappiness?

So the people who voted for austerity, and then got it and then hated it, needed somewhere else to place the blame. And into that light stepped mendacious grifters like Boris Johnson, Jacob Rees-Mogg, Michael Gove, Nigel Farage and Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, none of whom care one bit about the people of Romford, but were perfectly happy to give them an easy answer: The EU.

The Remain camp bear a huge responsibility too, as they ought to have been able to craft a response to this by simply pointing at a picture Cameron and mouthing "it's his fault". Instead, Corbyn went on holiday like the useless sixth form politician he is, Nick Clegg was a busted flush after the University fee shambles and nobody in England pays any attention to Nicola Sturgeon or Leanne Wood because they don't care about Scotland or Wales.

And so it came to pass that Leave won, and while I accept that all racists will have voted for Brexit, I don't accept that all Leave voters were racist. It just isn't that straightforward, and until the Remain camp understand that, they will continue to be perplexed about why people would willingly vote for something that seems so obviously harmful.

And why do I give these opinions and make these points on an article that is seemingly about West Ham? For a couple of reasons; firstly, to illustrate that no point of political contention is ever straightforward or without nuance. These issues are complex in their origin, and the positions that people have arrived at are being informed by all sorts of competing factors. I don't agree with Brexiteers, but I have tried hard to understand why people may have voted the way they have.

Additionally, because the entirety of British life at present is dominated by Brexit, and the entirety of British political discussion is influenced by Brexit, the resulting issues that we see at West Ham are fallout from this. West Ham currently has a problem with race and antisemitism and Islamophobia and homophobia for the simple reason that our society has a problem with all of these things.


***

"Tryin' to be like no-ones ever been
You try so hard, you get it wrong"
- Embrace, "You're Not Alone"


But there is another reason I say all this. I want to demonstrate that I am perfectly prepared to sit down and consider both sides of an argument. You may disagree with my conclusions - I'm guessing around 52 per cent of you probably do - but I'm not into blanket condemnation of people, just because we don't share the same political real estate. Nor am I permanently and dogmatically wedded to my own political views; Labour will never again get my vote while anti Semites run the party, because I've got to be able to look my Jewish friends in the eye.

But I struggle with the DFLA. I've tried. I've read their Facebook pages, listened to those of you who have contacted me with their side of things, and read their policy demands. And I'm afraid that I get nothing from it apart from Far Right dog whistling.

They are on police extremist watch lists for a reason, which is pretty damning considering that's what they purport to oppose. I've read the news reports and I've seen the images of Nazi salutes, and while I'm perfectly prepared to accept that the majority of people on that march would disown those views, I'm afraid "Just because I'm marching with Nazis doesn't make me a Nazi" isn't an argument that has improved with time. There are better ways to oppose extremism.

And the problem with Mark Phillips, and now Greg Smith, is that they have attached our club to that organisation with a degree of formality. My issue with Phillips attending the march wasn't that I felt he was a racist or a fascist because I don't know him (or indeed Smith), and indeed I am very uncomfortable with the idea that people be punished for their political views.

His misstep, however, was to tweet out something to the effect of "great to see so many West Ham fans here, always the biggest group". And the problem with that, from a member of staff with access to our players, is that it suggests that West Ham are connected to the DFLA.

But what about those of us who don't espouse the views of the DFLA? What about those who think that the group are marching under an Islamophobic banner and think that our Muslim fans deserve better than to see their club crest being carried in support of those views? Why is it that Karren Brady will smugly tell small businesses that they cannot use the West Ham crest to sell badges and scarves, but is seemingly willing to see it carried on a march like this, and doesn't see it as a barrier to somebody serving on her OSB?

I'm well aware that some of you may have gone on that march, and some will be DFLA members and that's your prerogative, of course. But you don't speak for me, and whether Mark Phillips intended to or not, he did try and speak for me by tweeting his views and attaching my club to his march. And while I am sympathetic to any club employee who wonders why they seem to be held to a higher standard of behaviour than certain Board members, I still think there is a significant problem with him doing this.

And as I watch all of this unfolding once again, as if scheduled into some sort of annual timeline of fuck ups which the club adhere to religiously, I keep wondering...what exactly is it that West Ham United stand for these days?

***

"The world is overrun with the wealthy and the wicked"
- Mos Def, "Fear Not of Man"


So, where now?

The last week has been a depressing time to be a West Ham fan. Steinberg has been shot for delivering a message that a lot of people seemingly didn't want to hear. First he highlighted the posts from Tucker, then retweeted the video clip of someone at the London Stadium calling Mo Salah a "Muslim c*nt", and then shared the various threatening Tweets he received. By any stretch of the imagination these were newsworthy stories, and yet the defensive refrains have been familiar:

"It's just one guy out of 60,000 so stop tarring us all...it's just banter and you're a grass...it's filmed by a Liverpool fan - let's focus on THAT!....you just want to hurt the club...journo scum...what about other clubs...I don't see any threats of physical violence, actually..." and so on until he eventually locked his Twitter account to escape the abuse.

We've even seen some of the fabled victim-blaming that Twitter ought to really market as it's USP, whereby people are suggesting that if Steinberg doesn't want to hear anti-Semitic remarks then perhaps he should just stop being a Jew on Twitter. As though he is a diver in a well known hotspot for Great White Sharks and should really just get out of their territory.

And of course, the appropriate response to all of those points is a simple one, namely how many anti-Semites, homophobes, racists, sexists or Islamophobes is an acceptable number in our stadium? And if the answer is zero then what is the problem, and if the answer is higher than zero then why do we care more about away fans in the home end than we do about this? Why should we report away fans and keep quiet about racist chants?

And while we're on the topic, how about some West Ham fans grow up a little bit around this topic? Just because @Tonythespur087654 with three followers and a "proud Dad" bio called West Ham a racist cesspit doesn't actually mean anything, because we are all grown adults here and not 12-year-old's trying to win a schoolboy argument.



I wonder if I can "Well, Actually" anti-Semitism out of existence?


When I talk about shades of grey and political nuance, I am talking about the wider issues that cause people to take the view they do. But in this area, there is only right and wrong. Either you are against people being antisemitic and homophobic and racist and Islamophobic or you are not. There are no caveats, or whatabouts or conditions upon that. Pick a side. Stand with gay people and Muslims and Jews, and yes, stand with Mo Salah even if there seems to be a pretty decent chance that he'd fall over the minute you put your arm around him.

What's really noticeable about this is how many folks don't view things as a problem unless it affects them. Away fans in home ends wind them up so it's a big problem that must be addressed. Muslim footballers being abused doesn't touch them so everyone ought to lighten up a bit. Well that's cowardly and remarkably dumb. It's not just Mo Salah who gets abused when that happens, it's every Muslim West Ham (or Liverpool) fan in the stadium too. And when you decry it as meaningless you are invalidating their experiences and feelings, and telling them it doesn't matter.

And so it goes. When you turn a blind eye to the hissing at Spurs games, or the chants of "I'd rather be a Paki than a yid", or "Does your boyfriend know you're here?" then you allow it to be normalised. Fans need to do better. When we see or hear this stuff we have to take action. Speak up if you think it's safe to do so, but alternatively just don't give those people oxygen. Block their social media accounts, unfollow them, and don't click on their links or engage with them. This doesn't have to be the identity of our club.

And this is where West Ham the entity needs to step up too.

There should be a well-advertised hotline where these things can be reported, and a campaign fronted by first team players aimed at educating our fans on what really constitutes abuse. At least part of the problem with our fanbase is that large numbers of them seem completely incapable of determining what is anti-Semitic abuse and what is an acceptable song to sing at people because they support Spurs.

We long ago blurred the line to the point where the two are now one and the same. I can accept that Tucker genuinely didn't think he was being anti-Semitic by posting the images he did, but that's the point - we've lost touch with reality and rather than face that inconvenient truth, lots of West Ham fans would apparently rather pretend this is all overblown and not a problem.

And so Steinberg finds himself fighting the great War of You Can't Say Anything Anymore Can You?, in the Battle of Actually Muslims Aren't A Race So It Can't Be Racism, against the 5th Armoured Dickhead Division of the Whatboutery army.

We ought not to leave him alone to do so.

***

"You say you lost your faith,
But that's not where it's at"
- Bob Dylan, "Positively 4th Street"


I have no doubt that many of you will find elements of this article disagreeable. That's ok, it's how free society works. I can write it, and you call me names.

To the extent that you feel you'd like to tell me I'm wrong and have a civil chat about things, you can do so at an upcoming WHUISA event. I am part of a panel that is discussing "The Identity and Culture of WHUFC in 2019". Also there will be noted author Rob Banks, KUMB editor Graeme Howlett and Dave Evans of the Recorder group, and while I can sense the eye rolling from here, I think it will be an interesting chance to talk about what we really want from our football club.

You can get tickets here for a fiver, with proceeds going to the Dylan Tombides Foundation. I hope you can make it.


Please note that the opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, nor should be attributed to, KUMB.com.







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