The racist abuse suffered by some members of the England football team in Bulgaria was deplorable. It may have been shocking, but it wasn’t surprising. Indeed the players were expecting it. They had let it be known that they would walk off the field if subjected to racist taunts and insults. That is a dignified response, but it’s quite possible that advertising their intention was seen as provocation and so made such abuse more likely.
There have been cases of vile racist – and sectarian – abuse at sporting events for years in many countries across the world. However reprehensible, this isn’t, for two reasons surprising. It is well-known that people will behave worse in a crowd than they would in a small gathering, and football stirs passions to an extraordinary decree. All sorts of abuse have always been common. Many a referee or player in the away team has had his sexuality questioned and I recall the story long ago of a Scottish footballer who complained that fans were abusing him as “a Fenian bastard”. “Och, forget it”, said his team-mate, “they ca’ me that a’ the time”. “Aye, but that’s different,” was the reply. “You are a Fenian bastard.” Quite so.