Saturday, 20th April 2019
Would the real West Ham fans please stand up
Filed: Wednesday, 6th February 2019
Author: Chris Wilkerson
Real West Ham fans. What impact has that term had on this club recently?
It was “real” West Ham fans who helped the Board quell a planned march that could have seen thousands demonstrating against the ownership at West Ham United.
It was “real” West Ham fans who threatened those who they once appeared to stand beside, making it clear that they were the fans that knew best and their way was the right way.
It was “real” West Ham fans who took to social media to attack a now-former incumbent of WHUISA (West Ham United Independent Supporters’ Association), who it appears could not represent West Ham fans due to possibly being left-wing.
And now Twitter sees a war of words, ready to define what it takes to be a “real” West Ham fan. They must not, it seems, be willing to shed negative light on West Ham United.
They must not question the actions or motives of real supporters, whether they act appropriately or not. Some can go further than others, it depends how many away games they’ve been to.
And they must not be too sensitive to racist and anti-semitic abuse if it is handed out by other West Ham fans, for this breaks a code of loyalty that “real” fans have signed up to.
It is troubling, confusing and hugely problematic. Maybe you can accept the fact there may be some idiots in a support numbering thousands on match days and millions beyond. But there is no way of stomaching that behaviour being encouraged by others, and staunchly so.
Because to defend it is to encourage it.
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Yet events of this season have certainly drawn battle lines for many. It burst into life with Mark Phillips and the DFLA, but that only shed light on what had never gone away.
It has come into focus again this week as footage of Islamophobic abuse towards Liverpool’s Mo Salah appeared on social media. And it has seemingly never gone away with the anti-semitism that froths excitedly over the surface on thoughts of Tottenham Hotspur.
Whether it be the fixtures earlier in the season or the kind of “real” West Ham fans who became the not-so independent Official Supporters’ Board (OSB) within the club, anti-semitism has again blighted our season.
And I say again because we all know it rises up every year. I say blighted because if this isn’t a blight on our support, what are we accepting we have become?
Followers of Guardian journalist and West Ham fan (and one-time writer for this website) Jacob Steinberg will have been treated to the thoughts and opinions of West Ham Fan TV this past week or so.
Steinberg has already blotted his copybook as a “real” West Ham fan by writing negative articles about West Ham United. A journalist with clear links, personally and professionally, to the club, Jacob has exclusively interviewed David Sullivan in the past.
He has also had the gall to report on the issues surrounding West Ham coach Mark Phillips and his ties to the DFLA, including his attendance at a march in 2018. Strike number one, Jacob.
Alas, there are more sins against the code. Recently, a “mutual parting of ways” with a member of the new OSB came to light, with Nik Tucker being advised to leave his position within it. He - officially - resigned from his position after a number of posts online that were considered to be anti-Semitic and homophobic.
This also made its way onto the Guardian, through Jacob Steinberg once more. As such, his was a name that was causing concern. How could Jacob, a so-called West Ham fan, really care about the club if he was happy to highlight these issues?
For speaking up against this, his name caught the attention of some West Ham fans. West Ham Fan TV, to be precise. Aghast, they defended the posts. Defended them with the word these people always use. “Banter!” they cried.
The crux of their argument began to show. Jacob Steinberg, Guardian journalist, was a "grass". He was purposefully attacking the club to get money. He wasn’t a “real fan.”
Earlier this season, in another argument where a social media group of West Ham fans posted images portraying all Tottenham fans as orthodox Jewish men, I was told to stay away from West Ham games if these things were offensive to me.
Jacob is being called a "grass", "bloodsucking leech" and "money-grabbing Tottenham fan" by people who claim anti-Semitic comments are harmless banter that have no impact on the collective thought.
Even the person who recorded the abuse of Mo Salah this week is a villain, somehow a member of the thought police, snitching on a West Ham fan.
Are we not West Ham fans? Are we not welcome at the club if we do not support the abuse of others? Tribalism is the protection these people need. Banter, a word as powerful as a plastic lightsaber, may be their reaction, but their strength is in acceptance.
I ask myself now what I am, if those are what real West Ham fans are.
This last 365 days has seen former Director of Player Recruitment Tony Henry sacked outright and the return of figures of cult status to West Ham fans and their violent past. A coach has been investigated and allowed to continue to work after showing support for the DFLA, a group that the Premier League has warned are “using fans and stadiums to push an anti-Muslim agenda.”
It has seen at least one reporter continually verbally attacked for refusing to accept anti-Semitic abuse being a part of the acceptable in the West Ham fan base. Multiple racist, homophobic, Islamophobic incidents at grounds, with social media always awash with such vile abuse.
And the question has remained the whole time: are you a real West Ham fan? It makes the question harder to answer.
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