Chelsea football fans packed onto a Paris Metro train, where the racist incident occured. Photo: AFP/Guardian News & Media Ltd/Getty Images
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All football fans – not just Chelsea supporters – need to show intolerance to intolerance

The racist behaviour of a tiny minority of fans should not poison the spirit of a club that has always attracted loyalty from all over the world.

Never have I been so disappointed to be a Chelsea fan. As a west London-born son of Japanese immigrants, I have always been proud of my support for Chelsea Football Club. They were my local team. The first professional football match I attended was a league cup game in October 1998. Italian striker and player-manager Gianluca Vialli hit a hat-trick in that cup tie against Aston Villa. Norwegian forward Tore Andre Flo also scored. The foreign exports were on display. Current Chelsea captain John Terry, who would later have his own criminal proceedings for racial abuse, made his debut in that game.

I fell in love with the club during that 1998 tie. “Stand up if you’re 4-1 up,” the fans and I sang. Here I was, a seven year old born in London yet ostensibly from foreign lands, singing alongside all ages, races and sexes because of communal support for a team.

A friend’s father, Lawrence Watson (Manchester City fan Noel Gallagher’s official photographer), took his sons and me to the game. He bought me my first piece of Chelsea merchandise: a blue woolly hat printed with the line “The Pride of London”. I, in turn, bought into the passion of 40,000 fans pushing on and revelling in their team’s success. It didn’t matter who we were or where we were from. Blue ran through our veins.

But the news story and accompanying video following Chelsea’s Champions League tie against Paris Saint-Germain prompted a rethink. How could I loyally follow a club with such support that has racist values at its stem?

It happened in a city in which I used to live. It occurred in a country that has recently dealt with its own share of disharmony. My year there was spent teaching at a secondary school in the outskirts of Paris. At least with the boys, European football was our mutual interest – race was no barrier in a city with many immigrants. A few of the pupils supported Chelsea over the French domestic clubs, including Paris Saint-Germain. Football was the great equaliser that could never discriminate.

But the views of the minority in the video do not reflect my experiences with the club and its home at Stamford Bridge. Actions in the video were representative of discriminatory men who happened to support a football team to which many also have an allegiance.

Chelsea fans have voted Ivorian Didier Drogba as its greatest ever player. Nine of its 22 players in the match day squad against Paris Saint-Germain were black. That figure would have been 10 had it not been for an injury to Nigerian midfielder John Obi Mikel. Only four were British. Chelsea had a Czech, a Dane, a Dutchman, an Ivorian, a Columbian, two Belgians, two Serbians, two Frenchmen, three Spaniards and four Brazilians. Manager José Mourinho is Portuguese and speaks five languages. Club owner Roman Abramovich is a Jewish Russian.

This is a club that was the first in English football to field an all-foreign starting eleven back in 1999. This is a club whose most promising youngsters are black British footballers such as Izzy Brown, Lewis Baker, Dominic Solanke and Ruben Loftus-Cheek.

Being racist is not intrinsic to being a Chelsea fan. And the racially-charged abuse should not be a battleground for rival fans to attack Chelsea’s general support base. Actions of a few should never represent the act of a majority nor the club itself – Chelsea Football Club has called for witnesses with a view to banning members and season ticket holders found guilty of racial abuse in the video.

The logical inconsistency involved in being racist while supporting a club with players from around the world shows the ignorance of those fans in the video provided to the Guardian. This incident should instead be common ground for football fans across the world to take action against discrimination – to have an intolerance to intolerance.

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The tale of Battersea power station shows how affordable housing is lost

Initially, the developers promised 636 affordable homes. Now, they have reduced the number to 386. 

It’s the most predictable trick in the big book of property development. A developer signs an agreement with a local council promising to provide a barely acceptable level of barely affordable housing, then slashes these commitments at the first, second and third signs of trouble. It’s happened all over the country, from Hastings to Cumbria. But it happens most often in London, and most recently of all at Battersea power station, the Thames landmark and long-time London ruin which I wrote about in my 2016 book, Up In Smoke: The Failed Dreams of Battersea Power Station. For decades, the power station was one of London’s most popular buildings but now it represents some of the most depressing aspects of the capital’s attempts at regeneration. Almost in shame, the building itself has started to disappear from view behind a curtain of ugly gold-and-glass apartments aimed squarely at the international rich. The Battersea power station development is costing around £9bn. There will be around 4,200 flats, an office for Apple and a new Tube station. But only 386 of the new flats will be considered affordable

What makes the Battersea power station development worse is the developer’s argument for why there are so few affordable homes, which runs something like this. The bottom is falling out of the luxury homes market because too many are being built, which means developers can no longer afford to build the sort of homes that people actually want. It’s yet another sign of the failure of the housing market to provide what is most needed. But it also highlights the delusion of politicians who still seem to believe that property developers are going to provide the answers to one of the most pressing problems in politics.

A Malaysian consortium acquired the power station in 2012 and initially promised to build 517 affordable units, which then rose to 636. This was pretty meagre, but with four developers having already failed to develop the site, it was enough to satisfy Wandsworth council. By the time I wrote Up In Smoke, this had been reduced back to 565 units – around 15 per cent of the total number of new flats. Now the developers want to build only 386 affordable homes – around 9 per cent of the final residential offering, which includes expensive flats bought by the likes of Sting and Bear Grylls. 

The developers say this is because of escalating costs and the technical challenges of restoring the power station – but it’s also the case that the entire Nine Elms area between Battersea and Vauxhall is experiencing a glut of similar property, which is driving down prices. They want to focus instead on paying for the new Northern Line extension that joins the power station to Kennington. The slashing of affordable housing can be done without need for a new planning application or public consultation by using a “deed of variation”. It also means Mayor Sadiq Khan can’t do much more than write to Wandsworth urging the council to reject the new scheme. There’s little chance of that. Conservative Wandsworth has been committed to a developer-led solution to the power station for three decades and in that time has perfected the art of rolling over, despite several excruciating, and occasionally hilarious, disappointments.

The Battersea power station situation also highlights the sophistry developers will use to excuse any decision. When I interviewed Rob Tincknell, the developer’s chief executive, in 2014, he boasted it was the developer’s commitment to paying for the Northern Line extension (NLE) that was allowing the already limited amount of affordable housing to be built in the first place. Without the NLE, he insisted, they would never be able to build this number of affordable units. “The important point to note is that the NLE project allows the development density in the district of Nine Elms to nearly double,” he said. “Therefore, without the NLE the density at Battersea would be about half and even if there was a higher level of affordable, say 30 per cent, it would be a percentage of a lower figure and therefore the city wouldn’t get any more affordable than they do now.”

Now the argument is reversed. Because the developer has to pay for the transport infrastructure, they can’t afford to build as much affordable housing. Smart hey?

It’s not entirely hopeless. Wandsworth may yet reject the plan, while the developers say they hope to restore the missing 250 units at the end of the build.

But I wouldn’t hold your breath.

This is a version of a blog post which originally appeared here.

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