Oliver Holt on Rio Ferdinand: Why sickening chants show race hate is still part of our game
England fans’ abuse against the Manchester United defender were nothing more than thinly veiled racism, writes Oliver Holt
Here are a few lyrics for you.
They were sung by England fans at the Stadio Olimpico in San Marino on Friday night.
Build a bonfire, build a bonfire
Put Rio on the top
Put Anton in the middle
Then burn the f****** lot
Adapted originally, I believe, from a children’s song that involved chestnuts and sausages.
Further adapted from a Manchester United song that substituted Scousers for chestnuts. And now used for this.
Used to bait two brothers for having the temerity to seek redress for what they believed to be a racist tirade.
Used to show that certain groups have not forgiven Rio and Anton Ferdinand for their part in the trial of John Terry.
Used, unwittingly, to show that the problems that blighted English football last season have not gone away.
Let’s be blunt about this: groups of white men singing about burning two black men on a bonfire is repulsive. There are echoes of the Deep South that conjure images of lynchings.
Yet we ignore it. We turn away. We pretend we didn’t hear it.
We dismiss it as ‘banter’, the new catch-all phrase that seeks to justify vile personal abuse.
We ignore it, I suppose, because it is deeply embarrassing when English fans are chanting that kind of filth about English players. Or anyone.
We ignore it because we hope it will just go away. The evidence suggests that it won’t.
Rio had already taken plenty of stick from the supporters who had travelled to the little northern Italian republic for the game.
But this was about more than just his questionable decision to withdraw from the England squad and then fly to Qatar and appear as a pundit for Al Jazeera.
That was just an excuse to sing what some of them really wanted to sing. And they took it greedily.
There was not much doubt what they were getting at.
It was about a lot more than Rio’s pre-planned fitness regime and the trip to Doha. Otherwise, why bring Anton Ferdinand into it as well? Anton wasn’t in the England squad. He had nothing to do with Rio’s decision to pull out.
He was, though, the target of Terry’s verbal attack at Loftus Road in October 2011, which eventually earned the Chelsea skipper a four-match ban.
He was also, in case you’ve forgotten, sent a bullet through the post . And generally vilified.
But after Terry was banned, everything was supposed to have gone back to normal. Everything was supposed to have been soothed away. English football forgot it had problems.
Attention turned, conveniently, to the appalling behaviour of Serbian fans who abused England Under-21 players during a match in Krusevac last October.
And to Kevin-Prince Boateng walking off the pitch after being abused by fans of Pro Patria in January while he was playing for AC Milan.
Boateng was fated for his action, even by Fifa president Sepp Blatter , who had previously advocated a hand-shake to resolve such issues.
“I’m convinced it would be a fatal error to believe we can fight racism by ignoring it and hoping that it’ll go away like a headache,” Boateng said last week.
Yet there has barely been a mention of England fans and their songs about the Ferdinand brothers.
The FA decided that repeated chants of “Rio Ferdinand, we know what you are” at the Stadio Olimpico had no racial connotations.
That is despite the fact that that particular chant, first aimed at Anton, originated among Chelsea supporters as a sign of support for Terry.
So let’s not kid ourselves about what was being sung in San Marino. Let’s not gloss it over.
If we complain about it happening in other countries, we must not turn a blind eye when our own supporters sing racially abusive chants too.
Perhaps, in practical terms, it would be hard to track down the San Marino culprits. The Stadio Olimpico did not look like the kind of place that was big on CCTV.
Perhaps, if the authorities went after the morons singing ‘build a bonfire’, they might have to go after other supporters too.
Because the atmosphere in San Marino, even though England won 8-0 and there were few opposition fans, was ugly.
The chanting of ‘No Surrender to the IRA’, a verse associated with the National Front and Combat 18, got louder throughout the game.
That also seems to be ignored these days, as we slip back towards congratulating ourselves on how much progress we have made.
Perhaps instead of bleating about Ferdinand missing the games against San Marino and Montenegro, we should think for a second. We should ponder whether he might just have made the right choice picking Doha ahead of a stadium spewing poison about him.
Then we should ask ourselves why, when his country’s fans are chanting about burning him and his brother, Ferdinand would ever want to play for England again.