FA wade in over abusive chants with number of complaints ESCALATING

SPECIAL REPORT: The FA wades in over abusive chants as statistics show the number of complaints in English football are ESCALATING… with clubs warned that fans could face criminal charges for crowd songs

  • FA chiefs have written to clubs over the increase in abusive chanting at matches
  • Abusive songs were heard at Old Trafford, the Etihad and Anfield last weekend
  • A total of 50 chants have already been reported in the first half of the season 
  • Fans have been warned they could face criminal charges over crowd chants

At Old Trafford and the Etihad, there were chants of ‘Chelsea rent boy’. Inside the Cardiff City Stadium came songs about Jimmy Savile. In the away section at Anfield, there were cries of ‘Feed the Scousers’. In other words, it was just another weekend in English football.

Abusive, discriminatory and offensive chanting is a stain on the national game which has been allowed to set in over decades. However, statistics show the number of people reporting the issue is now escalating. And a tipping point appears to have been reached this week, with the FA writing to clubs warning they could be charged for crowd songs – and the Crown Prosecution Service telling fans they face criminal action.

Douglas Mackay, CPS sports lead prosecutor, told Sportsmail: ‘We are horrified that the beautiful game has been marred by hateful and abusive behaviour in recent weeks. While chants create an amazing atmosphere, songs that include homophobic or racist language have no place in the sport.

FA chiefs have written to clubs over the increase in abusive chanting at matches, which were heard at Old Trafford during Manchester United’s FA Cup clash with Everton last week

‘This illegal activity can be, and has been, prosecuted, with perpetrators receiving criminal records and football banning orders. The CPS will continue to work closely with the police, football authorities and fan groups to stamp this out.’

Figures exclusively released to Sportsmail show that 123 chants were reported to football’s main anti-discrimination group, Kick It Out, from England’s top four divisions last season. That was more than double the 62 complaints made in the 2019-2020 campaign, which took place in front of full stadiums until the middle of March.

In the first half of this season, 50 chants have already been reported. Separately, Home Office figures show that the number of hate crimes – which include discriminatory chanting – reported at matches last season was 384, up from 287 in 19-20 and 193 in 18-19.

An FA source told Sportsmail they were ‘deeply concerned’ about the frequency of offensive and abusive chanting and that tackling the issue has become a key priority for the governing body. ‘We are determined to stamp this behaviour out,’ added a spokesperson.

Offensive chants were also heard during Manchester City and Chelsea’s FA Cup third-round tie

Clubs have been warned by the FA that they could face criminal charges over crowd songs

The problem has particularly come to the fore since the turn of the year, with the ‘Chelsea rent boy’ chant heard clearly at three different televised matches. It was sung by Nottingham Forest and Manchester City fans in their respective recent games against Chelsea, while Manchester United supporters shouted it at Everton manager and Blues legend Frank Lampard during last Friday’s FA Cup clash.

On Wednesday, the FA took the unprecedented step of writing to clubs to remind them they can ‘pursue formal disciplinary action against any club whose supporters engage in discriminatory behaviour, now including the use of the term ‘rent boy’.

That comes after the CPS confirmed last year that the ‘rent boy’ chant – which dates back to the 1980s and rumours of a Chelsea hooligan being found in bed with a male prostitute – is a hate crime and they have already convicted and fined one Tottenham and one Liverpool fan for singing it.

It is, however, not the only homophobic chant heard at grounds. Players and fans of Brighton – known for its large LGBTQ+ population – are regularly subjected to taunts of their own. During the Seagulls’ match at Southampton on Boxing Day, two home supporters were ejected from the stadium and subsequently banned after chanting, ‘You’re just a town full of poofters’.

Stuart Matthews, founder of Brighton’s LGBTQ+ fan group Proud Seagulls, told Sportsmail: ‘It makes me angry and very despondent. I am sick of it now. We are in the 21st century and football needs to move on.’

In the first half of the 2022-23 season, 50 abusive chants have already been reported 

Another club frequently abused by fans is Liverpool, with songs directed their way mocking poverty, unemployment and, most shockingly, Hillsborough. This has become a problem area for the authorities as, while they can take action against homophobic and racist chants because they are ‘discriminatory’, there is nothing in their powers to prevent generally abusive anthems, however vile they may be.

That is not good enough for Labour MP Ian Byrne, a survivor of the 1989 tragedy which took the lives of 97 Reds fans, who sent a letter to Premier League boss Richard Masters off the back of chants of ‘murderers’ by Manchester City fans at Anfield earlier this season.

He wrote: ‘These chants and the people behind them shame the game. The Premier League has a duty of care to these supporters and the incessant chanting that is now a weekly occurrence must be tackled at root causes.’

Another sick song going unchallenged is, ‘Jimmy Savile, he’s one of your own’, which is directed at Leeds supporters, who sometimes respond with even more abhorrent lyrics about the predatory sex offender who was born in the city and died in 2011.

Graham Hyde, former vice chair of Leeds United Supporters’ Trust, said: ‘Why do they sing about a serial paedophile and rapist? He wasn’t even a Leeds fan. But part of the nature of football ‘banter’ has traditionally been trying to provoke the other fans with something and if you get a reaction then you have won.’

Premier League CEO Richard Masters received a letter earlier this season over offensive songs aimed at Liverpool fans by their Manchester City counterparts

Sportsmail revealed last week that Leeds are currently consulting fan groups over their chant for striker Willy Gnonto (pictured), which includes a line about the size of his penis

Sportsmail revealed last week that Leeds are currently consulting fan groups over their chant for striker Willy Gnonto, which includes a line about the size of his penis and has been condemned for perpetuating racial stereotypes. That is one of 12 chants reported to Kick It Out this season for racism, including one which uses the N-word.

But it is songs containing the anti-Semitic Y-word that are the most reported of all, with 44 flagged last season alone. Tottenham fans have long used the word in chants about their own team, although the club last year told them to ‘move on’ from the term following a review.

Another act of anti-Semitic abuse reported to Kick It Out last season was ‘hissing’ to mimic the noise of Nazi gas chambers. Chants using the terms ‘pikey’ and ‘gypo’ were also flagged 14 times last year.

Anthony Burnett, Kick It Out’s chief executive, told Sportsmail: ‘Our figures show that chant-related reports have remained consistently high over recent seasons. You only need to look at the spate of homophobic chanting incidents over the past few weeks to see that this is an issue that isn’t going away.

‘While offensive mass chanting is often written off as simply banter by those participating, the impact this behaviour can have on those it serves to alienate is significant. For as long as this issue is allowed to go unchecked, there will be people who continue to feel isolated and unsafe within the game. It’s essential that football urgently gets this problem under control.’

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