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Could the mocking of Bradley prove to be a turning point in the fight against 'Tragedy Chanting'?

Tragedy chanting. It’s nothing new. Growing up, it was commonplace and not the only type of chant that you reflect on with a sense of shock and incredulity that it was ever deemed acceptable. Yet as times have changed, and other forms of chanting have become rare occurrences, if not outrightly eradicated, the mocking of tragedies connected to football clubs persist amongst a significant minority of “supporters.” Chants about the Munich air disaster or Hillsborough have become so commonplace that they rarely trigger the moral outrage that they deserve. Yet the mocking of Bradley Lowery by two thugs in Sheffield last week was different. Different because it hasn’t to my knowledge been done before. Different because the mocking of children with cancer is in some way more abhorrent than doing similar about adults who die by other means. But different mainly in its response, in the visceral reaction from all sections of society; supporters, clubs, government and non-football fans.

As the football world re-examines the perennial issue of tragedy chanting, could successful education on its effects and meaningful steps taken towards its eradication join the long list of legacies that the brave, young, Sunderland-mad boy left behind?

Group think is commonly cited as a main factor around occurrences of tragedy chanting. This being the phenomenon that leads individuals to do things in groups that they would not contemplate doing were they alone, is perhaps one factor that could explain why this sort of thing occurs. The causes of group think, which includes issues such as strong group identity, lack of knowledge, stress (fear of going against the group) and leader influences could all be evidenced clearly in large football crowds singing vile songs. This could come in the form of lifelong allegiances to clubs, the sense of community and identity afforded by following your team or the intimidating atmosphere that the Premier League particularly has become known for. And while these factors may be the cause, could they also be the solution? Could it be these very factors are the things that need to be engaged when attempting to turn the tide against these vile songs and it is why no amount of FA proposals or crack downs will be successful on their own. To explore the point, let’s return to the 1980s.


Football of the 1980s has gone down in history as being synonymous with racism. From National Front rallies leafleting inside and outside grounds, to overt racist chanting within the terraces. Black footballers would often be the targets of abhorrent racism from large sections of the crowd, who acted, overall, with impunity. As Ex-footballer Chris Kamara recently said, “You’d get dogs abuse because of the colour of your skin. That’s just how it was”.

So, what changed? For sure, education by groups such as Kick Racism out of Football played their part in at least seeking to eradicate the lack of education factor from group think. There is no doubt that changes in societal awareness of racism were also helpful in moving the issue in the right direction. But given that racism still exists and is experienced daily, that doesn’t tell the whole story. The main driving force behind changing attitudes amongst football supporters came from fans themselves; that is, the mindset of the group changed from one that tolerated and even rewarded racism to one that looked down upon it and often shunned those who perpetrated it.

This is not to say that racism has been eradicated totally from football and there are numerous examples of its occurrence, not least the Arsenal fan caught on camera making a racist gesture towards Tottenham captain Heung Min-Son in last week’s North London Derby. But it is to say that there has been a seismic shift in the way in which the group (those attending matches) responds to incidents of racism that has led to its marginalisation. The same has yet to happen in response to tragedy chanting and it is this that needs to occur if we are to see the back of it.

This is largely what we saw from the footballing community and society as a whole in the wake of the mocking of Bradley Lowery. The tide of public anger directed towards the two idiots was so severe that it will fundamentally alter the trajectory of their lives for the worse. If the same happened to every person who attended a match with a Turkey flag or sang a song about Grenfell, then we would quickly see incidents fall sharply.

We cannot examine the issue without addressing the problems around social media that have normalised the expression of the most sickening statements with little chance of consequence. The lack of visibility of the physical reaction to such statements seeps over into real life and is another key factor in the continued use of tragedy chants.

But the reality is that all the FA initiatives in the world cannot lay a glove on the scourge of tragedy chanting. Neither can public appeals by clubs ahead of historical flashpoints such as Liverpool vs Man United or Leeds United vs Millwall. For until the group mentality of those in the stands in which these chants originate changes, we will never see the end of the cruel taunting we have come to expect. If fans of all clubs use their shared outrage at the mocking of Bradley and their empathy with subsequent family statements, then we have an opportunity to change the collective mindset, call out poor behaviour and remove the confidence and invincibility that those who taunt about tragedies wear like armour, then we finally have a chance to resign tragedy chanting to history.

X: @ConorWilson2


Featured Image: PA Images


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