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The Camden Cad
Aug 24, 2004
North London
Sir Alex Ferguson has not exactly covered himself in glory in front of the press this season, but his spirited defence of Arsene Wenger's honour is to be applauded. The Manchester United boss has called on his own supporters to refrain from their sickening chants about Arsene Wenger when they visit the Emirates this evening and all of football must hope that they listen.

The evil chorus, which is by no means exclusive to United fans, is indicative of a growing menace in English football. Traditional terrace banter has been replaced by a swelling savagery in the stands. Humour has been superceded by hatred. It's one thing to mock Wenger's legendary myopia, it's another thing entirely to call him a paedophile. Would these 'fans' say it to his face, in a one-on-one meeting? Of course not. But behaviour that would be utterly beyond the pale on the streets of Britain seems, for some reason, to be acceptable inside a football stadium.

The sad irony is that I'm told it was a senior Arsenal player who first made the suggestion based on Wenger's professorial debut appearance at the training ground. What started as a stupid joke in the changing room became an insidious rumour that swept the nation. It didn't matter that it was obviously groundless or that it was so appalling, the scattered morons in the stands lapped it up like ambrosia.

Not all football fans are like this. Most are perfectly normal human beings, but there are some who leave their brains at the turnstiles. There are some who froth and rage at perceived slights from people that they've never met. Why does it only happen in football? Some people suggest that it is the soaring cost of attending the game that drags supporters to the edge of reason, but if the ticket price is the issue, why don't we see Lady Gaga fans howling out lewd allegations before the encore? Why is it possible to watch the Royal Shakespeare Company without hearing the man next to you loudly suggesting that Hamlet's friendship with Horatio is anything other than platonic?

Wenger isn't the only victim of these crass morons. Sol Campbell will almost certainly hear a burst of that charming ditty that wishes the aids virus on him. Gary Neville will run the gauntlet as supporters lean over the hoardings to bellow abuse from close quarters. Pity the corner-takers too, those brave men will have to keep their wits about them in case objects are thrown from the stands. Football never used to be like this.

Ferguson has made his own contribution to the decline in standards of behaviour with his dreadful treatment of match officals over the years, but his intervention here is a step back in the right direction. Shout for your team, boo the opposition, lose yourself in the moment. Football is, after all, one of the most wonderful of mankind's inventions and something to be cherished and savoured. But if you wouldn't say it in the street, and if you wouldn't say it to someone's face, don't think that shouting it from the anonymity of the stands makes it better.