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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Our union backed Brexit, but that doesn't mean scrapping freedom of movement

We can only improve the lives of our members, like those planning stike action at McDonalds, through solidarity.

The campaign to defend and extend free movement – highlighted by the launch of the Labour Campaign for Free Movement this month – is being seen in some circles as a back door strategy to re-run the EU referendum. If that was truly the case, then I don't think Unions like mine (the BFAWU) would be involved, especially as we campaigned to leave the EU ourselves.

In stark contrast to the rhetoric used by many sections of the Leave campaign, our argument wasn’t driven by fear and paranoia about migrant workers. A good number of the BFAWU’s membership is made up of workers not just from the EU, but from all corners of the world. They make a positive contribution to the industry that we represent. These people make a far larger and important contribution to our society and our communities than the wealthy Brexiteers, who sought to do nothing other than de-humanise them, cheered along by a rabid, right-wing press. 

Those who are calling for end to freedom of movement fail to realise that it’s people, rather than land and borders that makes the world we live in. Division works only in the interest of those that want to hold power, control, influence and wealth. Unfortunately, despite a rich history in terms of where division leads us, a good chunk of the UK population still falls for it. We believe that those who live and work here or in other countries should have their skills recognised and enjoy the same rights as those born in that country, including the democratic right to vote. 

Workers born outside of the UK contribute more than £328 million to the UK economy every day. Our NHS depends on their labour in order to keep it running; the leisure and hospitality industries depend on them in order to function; the food industry (including farming to a degree) is often propped up by their work.

The real architects of our misery and hardship reside in Westminster. It is they who introduced legislation designed to allow bosses to act with impunity and pay poverty wages. The only way we can really improve our lives is not as some would have you believe, by blaming other poor workers from other countries, it is through standing together in solidarity. By organising and combining that we become stronger as our fabulous members are showing through their decision to ballot for strike action in McDonalds.

Our members in McDonalds are both born in the UK and outside the UK, and where the bosses have separated groups of workers by pitting certain nationalities against each other, the workers organised have stood together and fought to win change for all, even organising themed social events to welcome each other in the face of the bosses ‘attempts to create divisions in the workplace.

Our union has held the long term view that we should have a planned economy with an ability to own and control the means of production. Our members saw the EU as a gravy train, working in the interests of wealthy elites and industrial scale tax avoidance. They felt that leaving the EU would give the UK the best opportunity to renationalise our key industries and begin a programme of manufacturing on a scale that would allow us to be self-sufficient and independent while enjoying solid trading relationships with other countries. Obviously, a key component in terms of facilitating this is continued freedom of movement.

Many of our members come from communities that voted to leave the EU. They are a reflection of real life that the movers and shakers in both the Leave and Remain campaigns took for granted. We weren’t surprised by the outcome of the EU referendum; after decades of politicians heaping blame on the EU for everything from the shape of fruit to personal hardship, what else could we possibly expect? However, we cannot allow migrant labour to remain as a political football to give succour to the prejudices of the uninformed. Given the same rights and freedoms as UK citizens, foreign workers have the ability to ensure that the UK actually makes a success of Brexit, one that benefits the many, rather than the few.

Ian Hodon is President of the Bakers and Allied Food Workers Union and founding signatory of the Labour Campaign for Free Movement.