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19 February 2015

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.

By Tomo Taka

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.

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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.