When Chelsea are featured on the front page of national newspapers, and the subject of a Prime Ministerial statement, it is rarely a good sign especially at a time of rising tensions in Ukraine and the Middle East and a never-ending election campaign.
To be clear. The Metro incident clearly shouldn't have happened and must be condemned. It did happen, it has been seen all round the world, and now the club and supporters have to deal with the fallout.
The club must be incandescent and highly frustrated. The club image worldwide will undoubtedly have taken a knock. Some individuals and organisations will be wary of association with the club. As one example, the image the footage presents to potential sponsors and commercial partners is not a happy one. It is easy to mock the club obsession with ‘the brand' (and I regularly do it myself) but the reality is that, with our matchday revenue far below that of major rivals, Chelsea need to optimise revenue from other sources. Chelsea were very quick to respond after the footage first emerged, but it is not hard to see how some potential ‘partners' might think twice about association with a club who have such followers, even if they are a tiny minority.
Beyond banning the individuals concerned from getting tickets I am unsure what else the club can do, any other actions must come from the appropriate authorities. On the wider issue, Chelsea are implacably and publicly opposed to racism and for them to take any blame for this incident seems ludicrous. It happened on public transport, well away from the ground. It is not at all clear whether the small group concerned even had match tickets - many supporters travelled out without tickets. It is hard to see what else the club could have done to prevent the incident, which is being used by some as a stick to beat the club and its supporters with.
Incidents like the one on the Paris Metro are thankfully rare but the instant, social media world we now inhabit takes no account of reasonableness or proportionality. Condemnation of the films content is clearly the right response but in a rush to judgement there is a need to be careful that everyone in that carriage, including any totally innocent bystanders, doesn't get ‘named and shamed'. You could argue that other Chelsea supporters in the carriage should have intervened but that is easy to say and less easy to do if you are facing a group of aggressive and pumped up individuals.
Rather than the tabloid and social media witch hunt chasing down the individuals concerned, which now seems to be in full swing and must bring with it a real danger of naming innocent parties, it would seem more sensible for due process to take place. I have no idea whether the young guy named on the front of The Sun this morning was involved in the chanting or pushing, but it seems to me a piece of shabbily irresponsible journalism.
Social media can be a very powerful tool for dissemination of information. It is also, increasingly, a catalyst and vehicle for irrational mob witch hunts, and I personally think it is danger of eating itself and losing relevance. Journalists use it to gauge public opinion, despite the fact that most people do not use Twitter or Facebook. They therefore can get a highly distorted view.
Yesterday Twitter was full of ‘all Chelsea fans are racist' (#Chelsearacists was trending for much of yesterday), ‘ban Chelsea fans from Europe', ‘ban Chelsea from Europe' and similar nonsense. There was also condemnation of the incident from many, many Chelsea supporters but that tends to get lost in the hyperbolic shrillness of empty outrage. This behaviour is not typical of ‘all' Chelsea supporters. Or ‘most' Chelsea supporters. Or ‘many' Chelsea supporters. Or football supporters in general. It is the behaviour of a few. That is not to belittle or underplay what happened but to tar thousands of people because of the actions of a few is clearly ludicrous. Most Chelsea supporters are clearly appalled by the footage.
There has been some thoughtful coverage of events in the media, rightly condemning what happened but trying to put it into some sort of context. There have also been a series of lazy attempts to solicit a few ‘rent-a-quotes' stereotype supporters as thugs and demand ‘action'.
One by-product of the behaviour of a few idiots has been the fact it deflects from a very real police brutality story, which has received scant coverage. Chelsea supporters trying to get into the Parc Des Princes were indiscriminately gassed and batoned and 4-500 missed kick off. As soon as the riot police pushed their way through the queue, batons raised, I stepped right back. Others were not so lucky. There can be no excuse for what went on, and lazy attempts to somehow link it to the Metro incident are clearly absurd. It seems to happen every time an English team play in France and it is time UEFA took action. Chelsea are collating supporter experiences from outside the ground and I would urge those that were there to take the time to respond to firstname.lastname@example.org so they can raise the issue with the appropriate bodies.
There is a timely Chelsea Supporters Trust members meeting on Saturday (details at www.chelseasupporterstrust.com) where there will be representatives from the Football Intelligence Unit answering questions. As well as issues such as policing home and away games and the rise of street touting, it will be very interesting to hear what the officers have to say about their role at Chelsea games in Europe.
What should have been pleasant memories for the 2,000 travelling supporters of a hard earned draw have been tainted by the behaviour of a few idiots, seen by millions all over the world. Condemnation is easy, maintaining a sense of perspective and identifying actions to try and prevent a recurrence are less so.