Understanding Chelsea’s Association with Racism

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Updated: March 29, 2015

Recently, the football community was treated to an ugly yet not unfamiliar scene, when a group of Chelsea fans prevented a black man from entering a subway car in Paris, before chanting, “We’re racist! And that’s the way we like it!” After Chelsea’s triumph in the Capital One Cup, another group of fans were reported and filmed chanting racial obscenities on a train heading to Manchester. These incidents have been met with disgust and strong disapproval from Chelsea and non-Chelsea fans alike, as one would expect in 2015. That being said, there has also been a sort of indifferent response to the cases of abuse, apathy directed not towards the victims of this derision, but towards the identity of the perpetrators. It’s not shock at the fact that Chelsea fans were being racist, but merely surprise that some Chelsea fans are still being racist.

The Premier League has steadily grown in popularity since the rebranding in 1992, gaining a mass following across the globe. Chelsea—being one of England’s most successful clubs recently—has a huge international fanbase. The members of this blog can attest to that. It can be difficult for us non-English fans to understand why Chelsea fans have such an ugly reputation among other supporters.

The best place to start is the Chelsea Headhunters. The Headhunters are one of the most notorious firms (hooligan groups) in the UK—probably Europe. Starting in the late 1960’s, the Headhunters have the distinction of being one of England’s first firms. It should be noted that the Skinhead culture that ran parallel to the firm in its early stages did not necessarily breed racism; indeed, there were black Skinheads, some of whom were highly respected. At that point, they were simply disaffected, disillusioned youth, bored and looking for a fight, an attitude that encapsulated the Skinhead movement that swept across London during the 70s.

As Skinheads became increasingly politicized, so did the Headhunters. Leading this political charge was the National Front, a far right wing group whose main platform was built on the denial of non-white immigrants to the UK. Kings Road became a popular congregating place for the NF, not far from Stamford Bridge. Veteran hooligans, such as Stuart Glass, became active in both the NF and the Headhunters. This led to the NF recruiting fans for the movement. The connection between the NF and Chelsea supporters was established.

At the zenith of English football hooliganism—the 1980s—the Headhunters earned a reputation of being one of the most sophisticated, violent, and yes, racist firms. They became the target of extensive investigations by the police; however, for one reason or another, they had trouble getting the charges to stick. Key members of the Headhunters, such as Steven Hickmott and Chris Henderson, were brought to trial but ultimately acquitted.

After a lull in activity, the group came back strong in 1990 under new leader Tony Covele. In 1992, Combat 18—a neo-Nazi paramilitary group—was formed by Charlie Sargent. Originally, it was established for far right-wing parties such as the British National Party. Once their relationship with the BNP deteriorated, they began acting independently, with a focus of fear and intimidation of their “enemies,” mainly left-leaning groups and minorities. Many members of the Headhunters joined C18, as the terrorist group took a liking to hooligans and their violent nature. The connection between C18 and the Headhunters was most conspicuous during the 1999 Bloody Sunday demonstration. C18 had been planning to disrupt the peaceful march for weeks, along with lead Headhunters Jason Marriner and Andy Frain. In all, Headhunters accounted for about 30 of the 80 C18 hooligans that were present that day.

The activities of the Headhunters have subsided over the years, as British hooliganism on a whole has been reigned in. By and large, the majority of football fans go out on weekends to enjoy a football match. That English football fans were so mischaracterized in the 80s and 90s because of a thuggish minority is, quite frankly, a shame. It’s important to remember this lesson when thinking of Chelsea fans as a whole. It was never the case that the majority of the fanbase was racist. Indeed, there was some pushback against the racist element, such as from the Chelsea Independent Supporters’ Association (now the Chelsea Supporters’ Trust) who supported anti-discrimination initiatives, drawing the ire of the Headhunters. In-fighting was common among the Chelsea fanbase, due to the far right element.

As Chelsea has grown in stature, so has its group of supporters, globally and culturally. Fans of the club can be found on literally every continent. It’s confusing, and disheartening, that a fiercely racist element would attach itself to a team represented by players such as Drogba, Essien, Makelele, not to mention the current contingent of players. What’s important is that we as fans understand where it comes from, and most importantly, stand united against it.

One Comment

  1. dan

    March 6, 2016 at 2:59 PM

    absolutely the most contraindication i have ever read in my life fact Chelsea mob had large numbers of blacks in firm start with the fat man case all the way through you gutless toads are way off the mark

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