England fans in Ukraine (photo: PA)
Another day, another newspaper article branding England’s football fans as “SICK”. What have they done this time? Beaten up little old ladies? Trashed a bar? Urinated on a war memorial? Nope. All they did was stage a protest against BBC Panorama’s hysterical depiction of Ukraine as a hotbed of racism and anti-Semitism, which they have discovered during their stay in that country to be untrue. And for this, for having the temerity to challenge claims made by the mighty, righteous Beeb, they have been described as “sick” and “shocking”.
The men, a group of fans from the Isle of Wight who are in Ukraine for Euro 2012, aimed their ire at Sol Campbell, the former England player. He was one of the talking heads on Panorama’s Ukraine-bashing, fact-lite show Stadiums of Hate, which was broadcast on BBC 1 on 28 May. He said England fans should avoid going to Ukraine, because the people there are so crazy and racist “you could end up coming back in a coffin”. His words were like manna from heaven for Panorama’s producers and for the army of tabloid and broadsheet hacks who for the past two months have been depicting Ukraine as a racially unenlightened, semi-fascistic backwater.
But now, ordinary England fans, having discovered that Ukrainians are in fact normal, or even nice, and that Campbell’s and other people’s claims were “complete and utter rubbish”, have staged a protest to make their feelings known. Or a “stunt”, as the media is describing it, because of course gruff football fans are incapable of organising anything as sensible or inspiring as a political protest. Yesterday, in Donetsk in eastern Ukraine, the fans paraded through the streets with a coffin that they bought from the local funeral parlour and which they emblazoned with the words “You’re wrong Campbell” and “We’ll do what we want”. They did this, they said, to show that for all the anti-Ukrainian fearmongering in the British media over the past two months, “at no point have we felt afraid or threatened out here”.
The Mirror has described the whole thing as a “misguided undertaking”. Actually, it was a pretty stirring protest against the East-bashing prejudices of BBC bigwigs and other media outlets. We’re always being told that England football fans are dumb and racist and that they look upon foreigners as inferior. Yet here we have a situation where it was the respectable Beeb, echoed by broadsheets, which painted an entire nation “over there” as backward and prejudiced, while it has fallen to everyday fans to poke holes in this xenophobic mythmaking and to point out that there is actually nothing scary about modern Ukraine and its inhabitants. England fans have proven themselves way more racially enlightened that the aloof suits in the current-affairs department of the BBC.
But fans can’t do right for doing wrong. When they engage in racist banter, as a few still do, they are branded “SICK”. And when they challenge sweeping prejudicial statements made by media outlets, they are branded “SICK”.