As a lifelong fan of Derby County, I have been exposed to one of the country’s most intense football rivalries for as long as I can remember. As a boy I was brought up to hate Nottingham Forest. I knew nothing of Brian Clough at the oblivious age of 7, but I knew plenty of foul mouthed, anti-Forest songs. The reason behind the rivalry and its intensity was unknown to me, I knew only that I hated them.
At the less tender age of 28, I like to think that I have outgrown that hatred. Sure, I anticipate matches against Forest more than most others in the season, I join in with the occasional spirited song in the South Stand. I embrace the rivalry and try to reject the hatred. Hating a football team as a child was easy, I had little else to do and it provided me with an identity. As an adult I try to fill my time with as little hatred as possible. Life is too short and I’ve forged my identity as I have grown up. Derby played Rangers in a preseason friendly on Saturday, a game that saw Rangers set an English pre season record by bringing over 9000 supporters to the iPro. Shortly after the match, the following picture started circulating on Twitter: In case you can’t read the graffiti, it says, “The Rams Say Yes To Burning Your Own Kids”. I am not going to go into the story that piece of graffiti is referring to, it is widely known and easily found online. A picture of the same gentleman holding the same defaced sign in a taxi appeared later on a Nottingham Forest supporters group on Facebook, and a number of Forest fans said that they had attended the match looking to start fights.
Now, this does not mean that the man in the picture is a Forest fan. This article is not here to point fingers at any one club’s supporters. What the picture illustrates, regardless of whoever the pictured man supports, is the depths football rivalry is sinking to in England. That particular story, a story about children who burned to death, has been referenced in songs sang by a minority of Nottingham Forest fans. At the same time, a minority of Derby fans have sang songs mocking the sudden death of Forest’s former chairman, Nigel Doughty. We all hold equal responsibility. I regularly listen to the things said around me in the stands at Derby and feel a genuine sense of disbelief.
If I’m being blunt about the details of these stories, it is to highlight the abhorrent behaviour of the fans involved. As with every rivalry, both sides bare equal responsibility. Social networking has only inflamed the issue. Fans mocking severe injuries, posting pictures laughing at disabled rival fans and engaging in ridiculous levels of threatening behaviour are a weekly occurrence. I’m not campaigning for a removal of rivalry and intensity in football support, but as vocal supporters of our clubs we have a responsibility to reflect the game to a wider audience in a better light than this. The only people who can remove the stigma of the British football yob are us. I have a friend who attends MLS games in America. She told me that fans are welcome to drink in the stands and that there is no home/away segregation. While that may never happen in this country, is it not embarrassing that the inventors of football are incapable of supporting it with a hint of class and morality?
Last week I got chatting to a Forest supporting taxi driver in Derby. We had a good laugh at the expense of each club’s fortunes last season, and he told me that he takes his grandkids to every game except the Derby V Forest fixture. That’s the point we’ve reached. A grandfather cannot take his grandchildren to our games in fear of what she might see and hear. We’re never going to be able to remove the idiotic minority from football, but we owe it to our clubs and to ourselves as fans to challenge the people who have yet to leave that 7 year old version of themselves behind, and who still use footballing hatred and anger to create their own identity.