Anton Ferdinand Image 2
IT DIDN'T take much for the clock to be set back three decades in the rehabilitation of the reputation of the Chelsea fan.
Mid-way through the first half of the Champions League group stage game, the dozen or so British print journalists sat in the press box of Genk's Cristal Arena looked at each other aghast.
Made all the more audible by the fact the box was glassed-in, and therefore insulated from other crowd noise, the chants of perhaps 300 to 500 of the immediately adjacent 1,100 travelling travelling Chelsea supporters were frankly beyond the pale.
It was sung perhaps four or five times during the match: “We know what you are; we know what you are; Anton Ferdinand – we know what you are.”
There is an irony in claims the chant was ambiguous: the intended meaning was immediately clear to all who heard it.
Some have claimed it was not racist, but merely accusing the QPR man of being a liar (an accusation which, in itself, opens a can of worms as to its potential motivation – none are so good at denying racism, as the racists themselves).
It isn't clear whether the people making these claims were the same ones stood in city centre bars an hour or two later singing, to the same tune: “He can say what he likes; he can say what he likes; John Terry – he can say what he likes.”
Or whether the apologists are aware there were several less-audible, but nonetheless quite clear chants within the ground glorifying Nazi death camps – a relic of Chelsea days past that is still all too common during today's foreign tours.
And, by the way: if you have to stretch syntax and context to such an extent to explain why something isn't racist, perhaps it's time to admit what is really going on here.
There were complaints later that other clubs had got away with worse offences unreported; or that Chelsea fans used to sing far worse things.
The first of those complaints ignores the utterly brazen nature in which such a large group of people caused such offence is such obvious proximity to the national media: no whispered sleight behind a cupped hand, this was right in yer face.
And the reference to Chelsea's past is as pathetic as it is worrying, when you realise that a large proportion of those behind these offences against decency would not have been born at the height of Chelsea's racist reputation in the early 1980s.
That for me was the issue of greatest concern: that the willingness to support and even reinforce an allegedly racist insult (whether ultimately proven or not), came largely from Chelsea's junior travelling support.
Why should these members of a reputedly colourblind generation - who have grown up with Drogba, Malouda and Cole among their heroes – be so ready to revert to racial abuse? Is it an ill-conceived tribute to the terrace heroes of yesteryear, some of whom made no bones about their opposition to integration?
Or is this really our future: a return to the bad old days?
In the years I've been following Chelsea in Europe, I've found that no national force polices the club's fans as well as the fans police themselves. People generally help members of the group if they are in danger, just as they will pull-up fellow travelling fans on their behaviour if it is perceived to be be out of line.
There is now an opportunity – with many of the club's disparate fan groups galvanised and melded together by other recent battles – for people to reinforce what is right and what is wrong, when travelling under the Blue Flag.
Because Chelsea fans have rescued their reputation from the gutter once before; and I know the vast majority want to rescue it again.