Listeners to Radio 2 medium wave shortly after the 1989 FA Cup semi final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest at Hillsborough kicked-off will remember reports of fans streaming on the pitch in large numbers. First hand evidence from those who told the truth that day said more and more fans came over the fence, despite being pushed back. It was obvious something was wrong and over 25 years later any rational thinking would question how it was for so long accepted that the fans weren’t offered sanctuary, rather than being penned in further.
That incident is a reasonable parallel to scenes that have featured on the news for months now. Refugees have been fleeing to mainland Europe in large numbers on a daily basis. We regularly hear of large groups dying, suffocating in lorries and drowning in the sea, while there is filming of survivors sleeping in railway stations and then walking for miles with children on their back. From the traffic jams in Kent to the pictures of toddlers washed up on the shore via footage of the displaced being in being imprisoned in coiled razor wire in Hungary, the clues have been there for a while now. And in the last few weeks some in the people’s game have stood up to offer a helping hand as we see a humanitarian crisis of an enormous proportion unfold on TV screens every night.
There can be plenty of arguments made for the settlement of refugees, with the skilled and well educated who have had to give their life savings to traffickers to escape attractive to countries in Europe, like Britain, where there is masses of undeveloped land yet an impending future of an ageing population with not enough workers to pay their pensions; but the first step for football fans has been to support those that have been suffering yet face hostility.
This was most noticeable first with ‘Welcome Refugees’ banners that were photographed across different German grounds before the international football break. It was a grassroots movement that both was an act of defiance to the far right in that nation while being in the spirit of unity on which football fan movements are built on.
The culture of football fan movements has lead to many things, from fanzines to joint campaign across clubs on ticket pricing, and not having an insular outlook where eyes are shut to the wider world is an essential part of any union that is representing the people.
German clubs themselves have also stepped up, Borrusia Dortmund gave match tickets to new refugees while the champions Bayern Munich offered both symbolic support with refugees as mascots at the weekend, but also gave financial help, with chief executive, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge recognizing the social responsibility football clubs have.
English clubs followed suit, with all the national representatives in this week Champions League following the call from FC Porto to give a euro of every ticket sold to help refugees, with Arsenal going further and giving a pound of every ticket of their last Premier League match against Stoke City to those fleeing Syria. And their fans and those from other clubs across Britain also showed their support in an environment where for years refugees migrants have been scapegoated by a press who find it easy to feed the angry and gullible, while having politicians in tow.
But things may be changing Britain. While the voice for a responsible progressive society will be shouted down and smeared on a daily basis by those with the most to lose where redressing the imbalances is a serious aim, the action of people, such as football fans influencing their clubs, can have a direct effect.
As well as creating pressure fans can now also contribute directly. In times of large scales human suffering in the last thirty years the ordinary punter has had the chance to put their hand in their pocket and buy some music, and they still can with this bargain of great music, but now they can also do so in the colours of their club by donating a scarf to the Philosophy Football initiative Refugees are our Football Family, which more than pokes fun of Sepp Blatter’s phrase, but raises the profile of the amount of refugees have been a part of football’s rich history while directly helping refugee charities who have asked for woollen clothing as winter approaches.
For all the longer-term issues to solve the roots of the humanitarian crisis, from defeating the right-wing religious tyrants in foreign lands to our own representatives stop turning a blind eye to well armed allies who are attacking civilians, in the short-term the people’s game can play a part.
Send clean, good condition club scarves before Friday 9 October to Philosophy Football, PO Box 11140, Harwich CO12 9AP. Please include your name, address and email in legible writing.
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