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.

Photo: Getty
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Who will win in Stoke-on-Trent?

Labour are the favourites, but they could fall victim to a shock in the Midlands constituency.  

The resignation of Tristram Hunt as MP for Stoke-on-Central has triggered a by-election in the safe Labour seat of Stoke on Trent Central. That had Westminster speculating about the possibility of a victory for Ukip, which only intensified once Paul Nuttall, the party’s leader, was installed as the candidate.

If Nuttall’s message that the Labour Party has lost touch with its small-town and post-industrial heartlands is going to pay dividends at the ballot box, there can hardly be a better set of circumstances than this: the sitting MP has quit to take up a well-paid job in London, and although  the overwhelming majority of Labour MPs voted to block Brexit, the well-advertised divisions in that party over the vote should help Ukip.

But Labour started with a solid lead – it is always more useful to talk about percentages, not raw vote totals – of 16 points in 2015, with the two parties of the right effectively tied in second and third place. Just 33 votes separated Ukip in second from the third-placed Conservatives.

There was a possible – but narrow – path to victory for Ukip that involved swallowing up the Conservative vote, while Labour shed votes in three directions: to the Liberal Democrats, to Ukip, and to abstention.

But as I wrote at the start of the contest, Ukip were, in my view, overwritten in their chances of winning the seat. We talk a lot about Labour’s problem appealing to “aspirational” voters in Westminster, but less covered, and equally important, is Ukip’s aspiration problem.

For some people, a vote for Ukip is effectively a declaration that you live in a dump. You can have an interesting debate about whether it was particularly sympathetic of Ken Clarke to brand that party’s voters as “elderly male people who have had disappointing lives”, but that view is not just confined to pro-European Conservatives. A great number of people, in Stoke and elsewhere, who are sympathetic to Ukip’s positions on immigration, international development and the European Union also think that voting Ukip is for losers.

That always made making inroads into the Conservative vote harder than it looks. At the risk of looking very, very foolish in six days time, I found it difficult to imagine why Tory voters in Hanley would take the risk of voting Ukip. As I wrote when Nuttall announced his candidacy, the Conservatives were, in my view, a bigger threat to Labour than Ukip.

Under Theresa May, almost every move the party has made has been designed around making inroads into the Ukip vote and that part of the Labour vote that is sympathetic to Ukip. If the polls are to be believed, she’s succeeding nationally, though even on current polling, the Conservatives wouldn’t have enough to take Stoke on Trent Central.

Now Theresa May has made a visit to the constituency. Well, seeing as the government has a comfortable majority in the House of Commons, it’s not as if the Prime Minister needs to find time to visit the seat, particularly when there is another, easier battle down the road in the shape of the West Midlands mayoral election.

But one thing is certain: the Conservatives wouldn’t be sending May down if they thought that they were going to do worse than they did in 2015.

Parties can be wrong of course. The Conservatives knew that they had found a vulnerable spot in the last election as far as a Labour deal with the SNP was concerned. They thought that vulnerable spot was worth 15 to 20 seats. They gained 27 from the Liberal Democrats and a further eight from Labour.  Labour knew they would underperform public expectations and thought they’d end up with around 260 to 280 seats. They ended up with 232.

Nevertheless, Theresa May wouldn’t be coming down to Stoke if CCHQ thought that four days later, her party was going to finish fourth. And if the Conservatives don’t collapse, anyone betting on Ukip is liable to lose their shirt. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.