No place for abusive chanting

The Cast Stone

ABUSE Players from St Gerald's College in Castlebar were subject to abuse from the terraces at Markievicz Park in Sligo recently. Pic: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

The Cast Stone
Michael Gallagher

There are times when mob-mentality takes centre stage, but I will go my grave calling it out for the cowardice it is.
In this regard, spending time with football supporters can be very educational. In recent weeks I’ve been on the sideline for a number of heart-stopping schools matches with very different experiences.
The vast majority of the games have passionate, loud, entertaining support groups in the stand; however one match I was at did not fit into that category.
On Wednesday last I was in Swinford for the Connacht schools final between the girls of Sacred Heart Westport and Claregalway and it proved to be very enjoyable.
A few weeks earlier I was in Markievicz Park in Sligo for a classic encounter between Summerhill and St Gerald’s from Castlebar. It was an end-to-end battle on the pitch, but the actions of some of those on the terraces left a lot to be desired.
The contrast between both experiences was stark. In Swinford both sets of supporters created a cacophony of noise and I’m sure they annoyed one another at times, but at no stage was one of the opposition or anyone else insulted. The same cannot be said for the Markievicz Park experience.
On Wednesday, the Claregalway supporters (mostly boys) created all sorts of noise and mayhem. They banged the roof of the stand when Westport girls were lining up frees and they were deathly silent when their own women were in a similar situation – and the young Westport supporters did likewise, with somewhat less volume.
However, neither group went a millimetre further. They supported their own; they had fun and added to the occasion.
In Sligo, the first half of the game was fine, but things took a turn for the worst as the second half unfolded. On the terrace behind the dugouts a large gathering of students stood together with a small number of teachers. They began with ‘witty’ comments but soon descended into abuse.
As St Gerald’s players were walking off after being substituted they were met with chants of “w****r, w****r.” I honestly couldn’t believe what I was hearing. These were young footballers being chanted at by a large group of even younger children. It was maddening and disgraceful. I was on the sideline standing between the two dugouts and turned to two of the teachers behind me. I asked them what they thought of what was happening and they just shrugged their shoulders and said “what can you do”.
Their reaction was disappointing to say the least. The children saw that I didn’t approve of their chanting, so they started chanting at me. This got even worse after the match when a group of 12 or 14 of them came down to the wire and chanted at me.
They didn’t expect a reaction, but they got it. I calmly found a gate into the terrace and approached the boys. It was obvious that they weren’t used to being challenged on their behaviour. When the teachers saw my reaction they intervened, apologised to me and said the boys would be dealt with.
Later when driving down the street outside the stadium, three students started chanting “w****r” at me. To their surprise I stopped the car, got out and asked them what they thought they were achieving. Once again, it was obvious that they were not accustomed to being asked to account for their actions.
On Wednesday in Swinford, the battering of the roof when players were taking frees was annoying but that’s as far as the interference with opposition went. It was such a nice environment compared to what happened at Markievicz Park.
My experience in Sligo doesn’t bother me in the slightest but it does make me wonder why that type of behaviour is accepted by most people. Why is such behaviour not challenged? Why do some people shrug their shoulders? I will never accept somebody chanting abuse at me. Nothing will ever change my thinking on that, but why do so many people allow it to go unchallenged?
Is it acceptable to chant abuse at another human? If it’s not, then we must call it out and challenge the perpetrators. As I said, the children hurling abuse in Markievicz Park were not accustomed to the ‘w****r’ reacting positively.