Pride and Prejudice: How Ipswich fans fought fascism, and how new prejudices arise

A third article in the run up to the third issue of Turnstile Blues. This one was published in Issue 2: By Mutual Consent and was written by Stuart Hellingsworth. Perhaps out of all the articles we have printed in this fanzines, this one deserves a wider audience, including people who aren’t supporters of ITFC.

In the 1970s and 1980s, racism in football was rife with players regularly receiving abuse. Ipswich Town fans were amongst the better. Standing up against this gained us plaudits. Other clubs stood alongside us.

Alasdair Ross stood on the North Stand in the mid 1970’s, when the lead singer was Goose Gladstone, a West Indian who later ran a chicken jerky van in the Old Cattle Market. Opposing fans used to send loads of abuse towards him with the main comment being ‘monkey’. He answered by singing the peanuts advert ‘Peanuts- Golden Wonder, stay jungle fresh’ which the North Stand would then join in with – turning the joke on the opponents.

One Town fan was amongst the travelling blue army when an infamous fascist organisation tried to portray themselves as Ipswich fans at Highbury in the 80s. The police decided to deal with all of the Ipswich fans. Fortunately, a number of Arsenal fans stood up and informed the police that they weren’t Ipswich fans but National Front. The Arsenal and ITFC fans then stood together as one against the right wing group on the terraces at Highbury. Another occasion where the National Front infiltrated the opposition fans saw their chants of “There ain’t no black in the Union Jack”, met with “Ipswich Town lives in racial harmony”.

Gavin Barber recalls reading in TWTD, an away fan’s experience at Portman Road via another club’s fanzine. It described how their fans visited Portman Road in that era. Upon noticing the multi-racial make-up of the home section, they began a chant at the Ipswich home fans with racist abuse of the “you’re just a town full of n****rs” variety. To the away fans’ surprise, the home fans responded with a defiant chorus of “Ipswich fans are black and white”, and loud condemnation of the racism. The author concluded that his team’s fans had been “taught a lesson” about what was and wasn’t acceptable in a football ground.

So not just did town lead with their on-field recruitment of foreign players, but off the pitch, our fans stood up against fascism. The message was clear, racism was not welcome.

Fast forward to 2012.

On a replacement bus service on the way back from London to Norwich, some town fans join the bus that is taking some of us between rail stations in Essex. Many of the people on the bus have enjoyed a day out shopping or caught a show. There are no colours or obvious signs of football fans aside from the several young town fans who board the bus.

As I wonder whether or not to fight the sleep that is engulfing me, I become more aware of the town fans at the back of the bus. The driver announces that this is the bus replacement for part of the London Liverpool Street to Norwich journey. The name of the City, Norwich, has excited the Town fans. Boos greet this announcement. At first, I consider this panto stuff and smile without acknowledging them. However, a few minutes later these so called town fans sing one of the sickest “football” chants; the one about Justin Fashanu.

The rest of the bus goes quiet. The group of middle aged women who were talking about the show that they’ve been to, look at each other in shock. The families look concerned. The idiots wearing the Ipswich shirts (let’s no longer call them fans) are proud. I am ashamed.

As I wonder whether or not to fight the sleep that is engulfing me, I become more aware of the town fans at the back of the bus. The driver announces that this is the bus replacement for part of the London Liverpool Street to Norwich journey. The name of the City, Norwich, has excited the town fans. Boos greet this announcement. At first, I consider this panto stuff and smile without acknowledging them. However, a few minutes later these so called town fans sing one of the sickest “football” chants; the one about Justin Fashanu.

The rest of the bus goes quiet. The group of middle aged women who were talking about the show that they’ve been to, look at each other in shock. The families look concerned. The idiots wearing the Ipswich shirts (let’s no longer call them fans) are proud. I am ashamed.

Regardless of the fact that this was cowardly, given who else was on the bus, this is a shameful vile ‘song’. Full of prejudice, celebrating the suicide of a poor man who was suffering due to persecution, the chant is despised by 99.9% of Ipswich Town fans. I can remember at a derby match against Norwich a few years ago, a small handful of fans tried to start that chant. Most of us in the North Stand turned on them immediately. The message was clear; rivalry is one thing, but that is too far, way too far.

Justin Fashanu was the first footballer to be openly gay and the first black footballer to move for £1million when Norwich City sold him to Nottingham Forest in 1981. Prejudice followed him throughout and depression followed. This lead to his suicide in 1998.
The Fashanu chant shows the ignorance of those that sing it. It shows a complete lack of understanding of prejudices. That is quite sad considering at least one of the group was of an ethnic minority and so it is not unlikely to expect that their family will have been the victim of racism.

And yet these people decide to mock a man who committed suicide.

Screen Shot 2013-08-27 at 18.34.11Whilst racism was a problem for Justin, homophobia was bigger. I cannot justify the actions of those in the 1970s and 1980s when attitudes were different. In this day and age though, it is worse that it still happens. Have we not learnt? The website, Unite Against Fascism http://uaf.org.uk/2012/11/unite-against-homophobia-and-fascism/ puts it so much better than I could:

“BNP leader Nick Griffin faced widespread condemnation for his recent homophobic comments about the gay couple who won their discrimination case after being refused a room in a Bed & Breakfast. His encouragement to a ‘British Justice Team’ to ‘give them a bit of drama’ was not only contemptible. Griffin’s comments also highlight an intrinsic feature of fascist ideology. It divides humanity into those that are classified as ‘normal’ and others who are ‘abnormal’: those who have full citizenship and those, who when fascists do gain power, have increasingly less, to the point where they are denied the right to even exist. In short, fascism leads to the annihilation of whole groups of people. Amongst its millions of victims it is estimated that the Nazis also killed up to 15000 gay men. All LGBT people in Nazi Germany faced persecution Holocaust Memorial Day Trust “Victims of Nazi Persecution (Gay and Lesbian).”

So to those who sang that awful chant, please realise that by laughing at the sad suicide of someone facing prejudice, you are undoing the proud work of Town fans in the 1970s and 1980s. Ipswich Town fans remain amongst the best in the world and those who sing the Fashanu chant cannot call themselves football fans or Town fans. By singing it, you too are being prejudiced. Please don’t let yourself be aligned with Nick Griffin and think twice before singing it. Lets never hear that chant song again. Your prejudice is not welcome at Portman Road. Ipswich Town supporters are multi-cultural, straight, gay and some like Fashanu, come with mental health conditions. We should all proud to be blue.

4 Responses to Pride and Prejudice: How Ipswich fans fought fascism, and how new prejudices arise

  1. Justin Fashanu did not commit suicide because of prejudice that followed him as a result of coming out. That’s one of the unhelpful myths that is continually peddled by various campaigners. Yes, he came out in 1990. Yes, he committed suicide in 1998. But it is highly misleading to suggest that one directly led to the other. After he came out, he enjoyed successful spells with Leyton Orient, Hearts and Aidrie, and was popular with both fans and supporters, despite still experiencing prejudice at times. In the end, his career was curtailed by injury more than any other factor. In addition, his sense of isolation was heightened by the particular brand of Christianity he chose to follow, which was rabidly anti-gay. In the end, the trigger to him taking his own life was his feeling of shame regarding his possible prosecution for indecent assault of a young guy in America.

    Why does this matter? Because the story of Justin Fashanu has been twisted down the years in a way that makes it harder for footballers to come out as gay, even though they claim to want the opposite.

    OK, I’m off the soapbox now. Well done on Town’s victory over my side Brighton yesterday. Fully deserved.

    • Thanks. They’re all very good points. I suppose ultimately only Justin Fashanu knew the reasons why he committed suicide & it’s tragic whatever the circumstances. He was still very young. I think our concern, as ITFC fans, is about the “Fashanu song” which is still sung – to our eternal shame – by a few (very few) fans, who are often quite young & ignorant & perceive it as being an anti-Norwich chant.

      • Many thanks for your response. I was very saddened to hear about the Fashanu chant, not only because of its hate, but also because it seemed to come from Ipswich Town fans. As you’re probably aware, many supporters of other teams have a historical fondness for Ipswich, mainly due to some of the great sides of the past (I could easily wax lyrical about the Robson, Lyall and Burley eras) but also good experiences with ITFC fans in the past. So it’s really great to hear you make a stand and distance the vast majority of Town fans from the ‘song’. Well done :)

    • Also, thanks for being generous about yesterday. I wasn’t expecting us to beat you! Hope you have a good season from now on (with the exception of the away fixture in March, of course).

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