In recent seasons Arsenal and England player Jack Wilshere has enjoyed a bit of banter with fans of Tottenham Hotspur. In 2012 he offered to donate £3000 to charity if Arsenal finished above Tottenham, as long as it was matched by Tottenham fans, an offer which received a warm reception from his team’s arch rivals. However, in 2011 Wilshere received a police warning for attempting to spit on a taxi driver who was wearing a Spurs hat, so he is clearly seeking the measure for acceptable “banter”. His latest offence, of obscene chanting about Spurs during Arsenal’s FA Cup victory celebrations, has been greeted with mixed views from the media and fans alike. On various internet blogs, Arsenal fans were obviously delighted, while fans of other sports commented that it was uncouth behaviour typical of the sport. Sky Sports immediately apologised for screening the incident, but the Football Association and Arsenal Football Club have yet to comment.
Of course players’ empathy with football fans is a standard marketing technique. There is a TV advert doing the rounds in which the former Arsenal player Ian Wright stands shoulder to shoulder with England fans in a bar watching the World Cup. The twist is that “Wrighty” manages to influence the game via a direct audio link to the referee. It is a clever concept which exploits Wright’s status as a player and a fan and physically links the two. Wright’s popularity as a fans player rests on his passion for the game. When, as a pundit, he famously ran down the side of the pitch at Old Trafford celebrating Beckham’s goal against Greece in the European Championships, we, as fans, felt a sense of unity with one of our own. But you are unlikely to see a Carlsberg advert where Ian Wright dresses as a Knight crusader or sings “There were ten German bombers in the air and the RAF from England shot them down.” That wouldn’t work because it crosses a line from supporter to FANatic. As England fans, we don’t like Germany and we don’t respect them either, that’s why we can sing antagonistic songs about them. This lack of respect forms a dividing line between what is publically acceptable and unacceptable. Alan Shearer was once asked if he would shake the German player’s hands and wish them luck before a game, his answer was “I will shake their hand, but I won’t wish them luck.” On the other hand, Paul Gascoigne was asked before a game if he had a message for the people of Norway, he replied “Yes, f* off Norway”. Shearer’s patriotism was noted, while Gascoigne was fined £39000 by the FA for bringing the game into disrepute.
So where does Jack Wilshere’s behaviour fit into this and should the FA and his club take action against him? According to the English FA’s Respect campaign, “Respect is the collective responsibility of everyone involved in football…” On Sunday the 18th May, 2014, during a globally covered public event, Jack Wilshere, with no provocation, repeatedly shouted that Tottenham Hotspur were sh*t and encouraged hundreds of thousands of people to do the same. That event was watched by tens of millions of people across the globe. If the message the FA want the world to hear is that this sort of behaviour by football players is acceptable then where are we to draw the line? How about Arsene Wenger singing for his “daddy’s gun to shoot the Tottenham scum” or Sergio Aguero singing “Who’s that lying on the runway”? I suggest Wilshere, as an Arsenal and England player, has dragged the English game back into the gutter. If neither the FA or Arsenal are prepared to take action then it’s open season for players in England to act like hooligans and goodbye Respect.