Why Manchester United fans are persisting with racist Romelu Lukaku chant

Manchester United striker Romelu Lukaku has urged fans to stop chanting the song

Romelu Lukaku and Manchester United had given their fans the easy way out. After the racist chant about him was identified, Lukaku asked the fans to ‘move on’ from the chant, and thanked them for their support. He did not suggest the intent of the song had been to upset anyone, but nonetheless it was obvious what the request meant: stop singing the song.

Six days ago, Kick It Out – an imperfect organisation, but correct here – also called the chant racist. The reasons for it are not difficult. A song about Lukaku’s penis recalls the stereotype of black men as sexually aggressive, and this stereotype forms the basis of many strands of racism which have led to black men being killed in the past. It is plainly not on a par with the worst crimes that racism causes, but nobody is claiming that. And, given the many connected causes and facets of racism, there is nothing wrong with picking this chant out for attention.

You could spend an infinite amount of time and words discussing the history of racism in football in Britain, and with the recent contributions from Liverpool, Chelsea and others, there is no sign that is going away. But that has been extensively covered, as have the reasons explaining why the Lukaku chant is racist.

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None of these incidents have been difficult to explain, but the reaction from fans has been a mixture of proud racism, whataboutery, and deliberate ignorance about what racism means and entails. The arguments against this bigoted nonsense could and should be repeated until more people are convinced, but there is another sorry sight, that of Manchester United’s self-basting away fans showing off, to an unclear end.


Against Southampton, a brief rendition of the Lukaku chant could be heard. It was followed up with, “We’re Manchester United, we’ll sing what we want.”

It is not unreasonable for a group of football fans, or anyone, to celebrate their lawlessness. The police in this country have gone out of their way to strip football from the working classes, in tandem with the pricing out of some demographics by the clubs. Away from football, the police demand ever more draconian powers, and have not even once been convicted of murder for the mounting number of inexplicable deaths of people in custody. Add to this their general incompetence over almost every part of their operations, and it is no wonder that fans want to stand up to them, and to the other suffocating forces they come up against at times.

As the tedious Brendan O’Neill, and similarly intellectually predictable characters have come up with, they see the curtailing of this chant as part of the war on the working class. Charmlessly, he writes that because the working class have done something, we have to assume that of course it is racist. No, the reason people believe the Lukaku chant is racist, is because it is racist. It is possible to identify the ways in which the average away supporter is being marginalised unfairly, without deciding they are blameless of any potential transgression. It is not possible for O’Neill and others to do this, because then they would lose their audience of lazy, thoughtless bigots and instinctive contrarians.

It feels like the chant from the United fans is a way to kick against the p****s, to reassert their place in the world, and to trade off the reputation of past United fans. Now, even the Bandit Bus’s cast of Twitter ne’er do wells would easily kick the teeth in of the average Yahoo football blogger, but the previous members of a decade ago, and earlier, were a much more intimidating proposition. It feels as if this is the way for the current generation to embrace their naughtiness and display their authority, and it just so happens that the reaction against PC culture is with the chant.

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This is not to excuse the actions by saying fans might plausibly have been ignorant of why the chant was offensive, but they have since been comprehensively informed and carried on with new knowledge. This makes the chants only more pathetic. They sang the chant not because they especially want to – many think it is a terrible chant and are embarrassed by it – but because they have been told otherwise. This is only different from a toddler misbehaving because at least the toddler won’t know any better. This isn’t childish or immature, it is just pitiful.

Fans have been banned and targeted for utter nonsense in the past. Drinking in the stands, making generally rude chants, standing up persistently (whatever that means). There is always a reason to fight against this treatment, and it is indicative of wider society’s failure to understand the nuance and differences between offence, ribald jokes, and bigotry. That doesn’t mean that when people are removed from the game for using race to make this point, that it is wrong to get rid of them.

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