Monday 16 September 2019

Paul Hayward: 'Buck's presence felt as Chelsea look to tackle accusations of racism and anti-Semitism'


Chelsea chairman Bruce Buck. Photo: Paul Kane/Getty Images
Chelsea chairman Bruce Buck. Photo: Paul Kane/Getty Images

Paul Hayward

Chelsea's chairman, Bruce Buck, was among officials who met fans off coaches here at Brighton as a tacit reminder that this was an important day for their club. Today brings another one, when Uefa is expected to say whether anti-Semitic chants heard in Budapest in midweek were included in the referee's report.

After Raheem Sterling was abused at Stamford Bridge last weekend, and journalists and at least one Chelsea fan reported chants about Spurs and "Yids" in Hungary, followers of Maurizio Sarri's team were subjected to shaming by Brighton and Hove Albion supporters, who chanted in the second half: "You know what you are, you racist b-----ds, you know what you are." The Chelsea end merely sang: "Champions of Europe, you'll never sing that."

There is a long tradition of fans exploiting the discomfort of rival tribes by drawing attention to offensive episodes, and Chelsea can expect more judgments of this kind.

The club will try to draw attention this week to the work they have been doing to educate those who are capable of learning about racism, anti-Semitism and other forms of abuse, and isolating those who refuse to listen.

Foremost in that second group are the far-right zealots, 40 of whom travelled to Budapest for the Europa League game against Vidi with a flag showing an SS death's head insignia, the words "No Surrender" and the boast, "You have been nominated and dealt with by the Chelsea Headhunters".

None of the fans photographed with the flag are believed to have attended the game but may have been drawn instead by Hungary's hard-right political leanings. Chelsea insist the old Combat 18 and Headhunter culture of the 1970s and '80s has been driven out of stadiums, though pockets of racism and bigotry continue to set the tone for some chants and embroil Chelsea in high-profile crimes.

On a day when Eden Hazard's brilliance overwhelmed Brighton, Buck and other Chelsea officials mingled with fans before they entered the Amex Stadium.

Privately, some Chelsea directors are exasperated by the persistence of those fans who refuse to consider the damage to the club caused by their warped world view.

"Any individuals that can't summon the brainpower to comprehend this simple message and are found to have shamed the club by using anti-Semitic or racist words or actions will face the strongest possible action from the club," Chelsea said in a statement in mid-week.

It was also pointed out that owner Roman Abramovich, who is Jewish, has reserved three of his few public utterances for condemning anti-Semitism.

Disowning abusive fans is now Chelsea policy. Cesc Fabregas said of those who hounded Sterling in the Manchester City game: "The people that did it got caught, they will be punished and taught a big lesson. The quicker we get rid of these people, the better. This is not the real face of Chelsea."

A failing of the England set-up over the years has been the refusal to tell bigoted and violent fans that they are not welcome anywhere near England games to disenfranchise them. Chelsea insist they have a record of trying to purge people who cause distress to others and shame the club.

The appearance of a Headhunter and National Front element in Budapest - without match tickets, in theory - served as a reminder that corporate rejection is no barrier to the committed racist.

Many Chelsea fans have taken exception to the suggestion that they are all racist - a claim sung by Brighton fans here. The contagion spreads to the innocent, but is caused by the perpetrators. The victims pay the real price. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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