Sol Campbell - homophobic abuse by Spurs fans and inaction by the FA
When will the FA get tough with rogue football clubs that ignore gay-baiting?
Seven years after Sol Campbell left Tottenham FC, fanatical Spurs fans can't forgive the man they call "Judas." They are still seething with anger and hatred, following his transfer to rival team Arsenal and then to Portsmouth. For years, they have subjected Campbell to a torrent of vile homophobic abuse that goes way beyond legitimate ribbing and mockery.
These chants include:
"He's big, he's black. He takes it up his crack. Sol Campbell, Sol Campbell."
And even worse:
"Sol, Sol, wherever you may be / You're on the verge of lunacy / And we don't give a f**k if you're hanging from a tree / You Judas c**t with HIV."
"Hanging from a tree" could be a reference to a racist lynching, or more likely, to Judas's guilt-ridden suicide after betraying Jesus. Or, perhaps, to the death of footballer Justin Fashanu who hanged himself in 1998, after years of anti-gay taunts.
For years, Tottenham and the Football Association (FA) did nothing. They allowed Campbell to be abused. They let fans get away with their homophobia.
The FA would not have sat on the fence if the abuse had been of a racist nature. Thanks to the pioneering Kick It Out anti-racist campaign, which is backed by the FA, individual clubs and the FA take a much tougher stance against racial abuse. Why the double standards?
Seven years of homophobic hatred against Campbell came to a head on Sunday 28 September at Fratton Park, when Tottenham played Portsmouth. Hundreds, possibly thousands, of Spurs fans joined in the anti-gay chants. But this time, they weren't ignored as usual. There was widespread revulsion, and not just from Campbell, his manager Harry Redknapp and the Portsmouth supporters.
The police announced an investigation into "public order offences" and urged the FA to take action.
Portsmouth have complained to the FA about the behaviour of the Spurs' fans.
The FA director of communications Adrian Bevington responded by telling BBC Radio 5 Live:
"This is disgusting, vile abuse - whether it is homophobic or racist, any abuse of that nature is simply not acceptable. We have to have a zero tolerance approach to it.
"The FA, the clubs and the police are working together to identify the individuals. There were hundreds of people shouting that abuse at Fratton Park last week and it is very difficult to walk in and try to eject people in that situation.
"What we have to do now is make sure those individuals are identified using CCTV or any other means.
"They need to be identified, publicly arrested - so there is an example made - and banned for life from attending football matches."
I have written to the FA urging "prompt disciplinary action" to deter any repeat of the abuse at future matches.
This could include fining Spurs for failing to control its fans and banning some or all Tottenham fans from attending their team's next match. Given the large number of fans who homophobically abused Campbell, and the difficulty in identifying them, a one-match ban on all Spurs fans might be justified. Although I don't want to penalise the innocent, it could usefully prompt a bit of peer pressure on the terraces to call time on anti-gay abuse. Empty stands would also send a clear, strong message.
But punishing offenders is not the ideal or only action required. Persuading them to ditch their bigotry is a better long-term solution.
The FA should organise the mass distribution of anti-homophobia leaflets to Spurs fans at the club's next few matches, and make a PA announcement at the start of the next Spurs kick-off, warning that homophobic, racist and anti-Semitic insults of any kind are unacceptable and that offending clubs and fans will be penalised. The FA could insist that there are similar anti-homophobia messages on tickets, in match programmes and on the giant screens inside stadiums.
There needs be a high-level meeting between the FA and the Spurs management, with Tottenham being required to draw up a plan of action to educate their fans in tolerance.
All clubs should agree to introduce a five-year ban on players and fans who indulge in racist and homophobic insults.
The Gay Football Supporters Network is also pressing Spurs and the FA for tough action:
"There has been no widespread publicity from Tottenham to its fans over the changed ground regulations prohibiting homophobic chants, and no word from the club on how breaches of the regulations would be dealt with," said GFSN.
"The FA and GFSN have worked together to encourage greater dialogue with the professional clubs in instigating the ground regulations outlawing homophobic abuse by having volunteer Liaison Officers to discuss such issues with the clubs. Unlike teams such as Reading FC and Bradford City FC, we were disappointed that Tottenham FC failed to respond to the Liaison Officer's call for a meeting where the abuse of Mr Campbell could have been discussed and steps taken to prevent it in future.
"Homophobic abuse of footballers is completely unacceptable and is one of the main reasons why there are no out gay professional footballers. Who can blame them, since openly gay players are likely to be subjected to similar homophobia," said GFSN.
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