Green StreetResponding to an article condemning Leeds United fans for being the most homophobic in football, I’m acutely aware of my own personal bias. I’m a Leeds United fan, obviously, I have a season ticket in the Kop, travel to the vast majority of away games and, most importantly of all, am part of the group the person who wrote the article is condemning – the Leeds United fans that is, not the homophobic.

The fact is, it’s impossible to address this issue without my own personal bias playing a part. These are my people after all, anyone who’s done an introduction to psychology course knows how easily an ‘us and them’ bias effects our reasoning. There’s every possibility that I’ll exaggerate our good points while down-playing the bad, but unlike some Leeds United fans, I do recognise we have a problem.

In fairness, We Are Brighton did have the decency to write that it’s only a minority of our fans responsible for this problem, while also adding balance by pointing to their own fanbases misbehaviour on Saturday.

But I take a slightly different view from the people at We Are Brighton. While I find no reason to question the accuracy of the article (I’ve seen this kind of behaviour far too many times to doubt it) I disagree on two points;

  1. Firstly, Leeds United’s minority are no worse than the minority of trouble-causing idiots at any other club. The difference, I believe, is that a Leeds United minority usually outnumbers a Huddersfield Town or a Cardiff City (for example) minority tenfold. Not because there’s a larger percentage of our fanbase prone to such idiotic behaviour, but because our home and away crowds are usually much larger.
  2. Secondly, I disagree that the minority are the problem.

An unsavoury element exists at every football club up and down the country, few people would dispute that. And yes, the people causing trouble are outnumbered by genuine fans who just want to watch the game and enjoy the atmosphere by hundreds, maybe even thousands, to one.

The majority go about their business without issue, trying their hardest to ignore the minority of idiots and pretend they don’t exist. When confronted by the issue, the majority who don’t partake in the senseless thuggery, casual racism, homophobia, sexism and violence that has scarred our game for decades will simply shrug and dismiss the problem. “It’s only a minority” we reason, as if that somehow makes it more acceptable.

It’s not acceptable however when the boot is on the other foot. When Millwall and Manchester United fans are mocking the deaths of Leeds United fans, we’re suddenly outraged. No one is casually dismissing it as a minority problem any more, all of a sudden, it’s unacceptable and we demand justice. Quite rightly too.

But if we can’t deal with our own minority, what are we proposing Millwall and Manchester United do about their fans? How do Brighton deal with the idiots who attacked Leeds United fans outside the Old White Hart on Saturday?

Banning orders and a higher Police presence work to an extent, but they’ve only reduced the problem, they never rid us of it completely. It can also make for a less-than-pleasant experience at many grounds, as I’m sure most Leeds United fans who’ve travelled away will testify. Perhaps that partly explains why we’re so accepting of the problem? Because the solution didn’t work and the inconvenience it caused the rest of us can be a real nuisance.

Since we don’t have any other answers, we choose instead to ignore the problem or play down the severity of it.

That’s the real problem. Not the minority of brain-dead Chavs who thought Green Street was a documentary and have been waiting to take on Elijah Wood’s crew ever since, but the rest of us who accept this kind of behaviour as an unavoidable consequence of large crowd gatherings.

I responded to We Are Brighton‘s article on Twitter earlier today and was immediately inundated with three types of reply – those who agreed we have a problem, people living in total denial dismissing the article as a work of fiction and the biggest group of all, the casually carefree “it’s only a minority of fans.”

The problems of the 1980s didn’t start because people, en masse, spontaneously decided to start punching each other. Such problems always start as a minority, escalating to a point where it gets so out-of-hand, it becomes impossible to ignore. It might take a random punch in the face while you’re simply trying to enjoy the football with your family, but that’s the direction we’re heading in if we continue to pretend such problems don’t exist.

These problems always start the same way and whether you like it or not, the authorities are largely powerless to stop them. It’s a gradual progression from “don’t worry, it’s only a minority” to organised gangs that kids want to join because they think it’s cool.

If people just wanted to fight, they could save themselves the expense of travelling the country and do so on their own doorstep. The twisted logic hooligans apply to their behaviour isn’t based on a desire to fight, they genuinely believe that they’re representing Leeds United – that their actions serve to bolster our reputation as a name to be feared.

That we’re feared for the thuggish behaviour of our fans instead of the quality of our team is irrelevant to these people. Very few of us want to be labelled as homophobic thugs, but when no one questions the actions of those responsible, how else are outsiders supposed to view it? We’re one group to them. We’re Leeds United fans. That it was only a minority makes no difference at all, we’re still associated with these people. Worse still, many are refusing to condemn the actions of a minority.

It was only a minority of Millwall fans wearing Galatasaray shirts, only a minority of Manchester United fans who brought the banner to Elland Road. The majority are just like you and me – does that make you feel any better about those clubs though?

By failing to condemn such actions and actively dismissing the problem as a natural by-product of football, Brighton’s fans feel justifiably aggrieved (like we did v Manchester United and Millwall) and the hooligans take that as positive-reinforcement. Why shouldn’t they? They’re not being condemned by the rest of us, if anything, we’re defending them as part of a larger group.

How many times have you heard opposition fans complain about the behaviour of our fans, only for our fans to retort with an example of their own fans misbehaviour? You’ve probably done it yourself without even realising, I know I have. I did it when Manchester United brought that banner, as if it somehow justified the runway chants from the Kop.

I refuse to accept that there’s a problem with homophobia at Elland Road, the overwhelmingly positive response Robbie Rogers received from Leeds United fans after he revealed his sexuality suggests we’re far more accepting than We Are Brighton gives us credit for. To me, the homophobic insults are just a lazy stereotype used to get a reaction from opposition fans.

But while there isn’t a problem with homophobia in Leeds (no more so than anywhere else at least), we do have a thuggish element that we’ve ignored, played-down and sometimes even condoned for far too long. While this may exist at every football club in the country, an acceptance of it doesn’t have to.

When a crowd or an individual yells unacceptable remarks towards another team or fan, they’re seeking approval from the rest of the group. Deprive them of that and the problem goes away. No one wants to be the last man shouting homophobic abuse at the opposition while the rest of the stadium fixes them with a look of contempt. That’s how we overcame racism in football and it’s the same way we’ll overcome homophobia, senseless violence and general thuggery. We’ll simply stop accepting it.