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When terrace abuse can go way too far

PUBLISHED: 16:09 25 February 2010 | UPDATED: 08:25 02 July 2010

David Powles

One of the highlights of my 30th birthday last year was receiving a brilliantly thoughtful Norwich City-related present from a friend. He had scoured Ebay and purchased every single home programme from the season in which I was born - 1979/80.

One of the highlights of my 30th birthday last year was receiving a brilliantly thoughtful Norwich City-related present from a friend.

He had scoured Ebay and purchased every single home programme from the season in which I was born - 1979/80.

A great present and over the last few months I have had much fun replaying the season, reading manager John Bond's programme notes, scouring the player stats and enjoying some of the unintentionally comical moments, such as player of the year Tony Powell giving his backing to the car of the moment, the Renault 18TS.

And last week's coverage given to the Justin Fashanu exhibition in Norwich, held as part of a Football v Homophobia campaign, brought to my mind a poignant interview in a programme with the striker, then just 18 years old and little more than six months into his professional career.

In it he talked candidly about the abuse he had already received in his short career, from players as well as fans, not at this stage because he was gay, but because of the simple colour of his skin.

He said: “I am a special target for trouble makers ... and sometimes it's hard to keep yourself in check when you know someone is winding you up.”

The report goes on to describe how boxing, at which the youngster was proficient, had been a good foil for the abuse he received.

Showing maturity above his years, he went on: “I still partake with the gloves and I believe it's good for me because I work the aggression out of my system and it can also be good for the odd spots of depression.

“I know the challenge is there nearly every game to have a go, but it's no problem to me now to walk away and, anyhow, while they are having a go at me, it gives partner Kevin Reeves a better chance of scoring.”

You can only imagine how hard it must have been for a kid to have to take. But sadly, once it became known that he was gay, things got even worse.

Abuse from players, fans and even his Nottingham Forest manager Brian Clough - something Ol Big Head later admitted to bitterly regretting - completely shattered his already brittle confidence. His star faded and in 1998 he took his own life.

Decades later we like to think that football has moved on - and in many ways it has.

Fortunately only the most ignorant of fans abuse a player because of the colour of their skin.

And if fans, or for that matter players, do carry out such abuse you would like to think the punishment would be severe, unlike in Fashanu's era when the authorities all too often turned a blind eye.

You would also like to think, though it cannot be proven as to this day Fashanu is the only footballer to officially come out as gay, the majority of supporters might be more tolerant of openly homosexual players.

However, I do wonder whether things have changed quite as much as we would like.

Because while players may no longer receive angry vitriol because of the colour of their skin, place of birth or sexuality, many still receive unacceptable levels of abuse - and at times plenty of it.

There seems to be some fans at games who no longer feel the need to discriminate when it comes to abuse.

As far as they are concerned, it doesn't matter if they are black or white, the simple fact they are professional footballers in the first place qualifies them to receive a verbal lashing.

And not all of it is the acceptable light-hearted terraced humour for which football fans are normally famous for, nor is all of it just being meted out at opposition players.

Because all too often some modern-day supporters are going way beyond what is acceptable in their torrents towards players - as well as referees and even stewards.

And I'll be honest I have witnessed some of this at Carrow Road - and every time it leaves a bitter taste in my mouth.

Take Saturday's game against Southampton. Does the fact that Kelvin Davis used to play for Ipswich and Jon Otsemobor, Norwich, really qualify them as deserving of some truly sickening stick, the like of which I'm sorry to say I heard from certain sections of Saturday's crowd?

Don't get me wrong, I as much as the next man, enjoy a bit of anti-Ipswich banter and love a good moan at the ref.

But paying £25 to see a game does not give anyone the right to call someone time and time again “a waste of skin”, as I heard against Otsemobor, or for five whole minutes repeatedly shout out at a player one of the most offensive words in the English language, as was done against Davis.

And don't try telling me the players either can't hear it, get paid enough to deal with it or deserve it for daring to play for Ipswich or leave City in the first place.

Because if there is one thing that Justin Fashanu's case showed, it is that no matter how much they are paid to do the job of most people's dreams, footballers are human beings too.

t Five of the rest

1. Since Colchester away, City's performances have got progressively worse. The best word to describe Tuesday's showing is rank. Saturday was only marginally better because the quality of opponents was much more superior. So has the bubble burst? No way. There's no doubt the Canaries are going through what is a relatively normal mid-season slump, which on this occasion is the culmination of a few players being out of form and a few more tired, weary and in need of a bit of a rest. Quality shines through though and I have no doubt we'll improve soon - and that last-minute goal could be just the filip we need.

2. There should be nothing stopping us from picking up another three points at Oldham away on Saturday. At least I hope not as I'll be among the hundreds making the journey to the game. But it will be interesting to see what team Lambert decides to go with. Surely now is a good time to give the jaded-looking Chris Martin a bit of a break and trust in Oli Johnson alongside Grant Holt.

3. Watching Grant Holt, pictured, play for Shrewsbury in the play-off finals last year I remember the commentator saying that he covered more distance per game than any other player in League Two during last season. We have certainly seen the same level of effort this year, and I wouldn't want to knock him for that. However, you do sometimes wonder if he spends too much time out on the flanks chasing the ball, when his goalscoring chances, and subsequently the team's, would be better off having him in the box where he is best.

4. The will-he, won't he-invest saga involving Lotus boss Tony Fernandes has more than a hint of the childish flirting that goes on between kids on the playground.

One minute Tony says he might fancy Norwich, the next Norwich says it might fancy Tony. For goodness sake someone make the first move. How nice would a couple of million be ahead of what will hopefully be a 2010/11 season in the Championship?

5. I've predicted 91 to be the magic mark for definite automatic promotion, and possibly even the title, and two wins out of the last three games now leaves us needing 22 points from 13 matches.

A none-too spectacular record of six wins, four draws and three defeats would see us home.

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