New Media, Old Arguments

When season ticket holder James McMahon vented his anger at the “moronic, retro- grade, football cliché-101-banter” of some supporters at the QPR friendly, initial reac- tions fell mainly into two groups.

McMahon announced on twitter that he walked out in disgust after hearing a young girl
ask her dad the meaning of “tits, fanny and Orient”. Several people on Twitter, including
a high proportion of women, immediately responded to back up his dislike for the song.
One, @valorient, said “it perpetuates outdated, patriarchal notions about football being
a pastime for men” while @AviationSpidey replied: “I’m a girl and that song made me
sick”. @KerenOrient added, in response to the abuse McMahon was getting, “You have
spoken out about something some of us have despised but never said”.

Then there were the others, principally men. Some of the more printable ones accused
McMahon of being all that’s wrong with football (!), while his girifriend was tweeted
directly by one particularly charming man (not, it seems, actually an Orient fan) to ask
if she “takes it up the arse”.

Women who had responded to support McMahon were told “shut the fuck up”, “stop
being pathetic” or to “shut your fanny”. It shouldn’t need pointing out that all this is
totally unacceptable, and it shouldn’t need more than a moment’s thought to realise that
singing the ‘Oh East London’ song, in the full knowledge now of how many people find
it upsetting or offensive, is utterly indefensible. Saying it’s been around for years, or that
other Clubs have worse songs, really aren’t very good excuses.

As one female Orient fan wrote: “the key thing about it all is that songs like that alienate
women fans, it says this is not your space & you aren’t really part of this... Reduction to
body parts can also feel a bit threatening on occasion: being one of only a few women on
a train station where it was being chanted a few years back felt pretty horrible”.

For some male Orient fans, it may have come as a surprise to find that so many people
are offended by the song, but now it’s public knowledge we can assume that those who
continue to sing it simply don’t care about offending or intimidating women. Parallels
with terrace songs which make gay or ethnic minority fans feel unwelcome are so obvi-
ous as hopefully not to need elaborating.

So why did the whole affair drag out for a week, with hundreds of tweets from football
fans across the country and lengthy threads on the Orient messageboards about it?
Partly because of the kind of idiots described above taking a “we’ll sing what we want”
attitude. But also partly because of the way McMahon handled it, which managed to
alienate many people who were on his side initially.

A piece on the New Statesman blog entitled “It’s not you, Leyton Orient: why a sexist
song means I’m walking away from my football club” saw him announce that he would
now be watching Clapton FC instead – a team noted of late for their left-wing “ultras”
and absence of offensive chanting. This was followed by an article in the Sunday Mirror,
bringing the subject to the attention of the nation.

This very public approach upset many supporters. It seemed that the behaviour of a
small group was being used to portray Leyton Orient (and indeed football supporters
as a whole) in a bad light: a point which was underlined by the number of people who
responded online to McMahon’s articles with comments like “this is why I don’t like

Being told that someone is leaving Orient behind to support another team because of
sexism at games is also an implicit criticism of those who remain. Over the years there
have been instances of racism, homophobia and so on, but these battles have been won
by Orient supporters taking them on together.

Sometimes this has taken the form of challenging prejudice in the ground – as some
did physically when the National Front tried to recruit at football grounds – or by re-
sponding with rival chants such as those directed at a handful of EDL sympathisers by
hundreds of away supporters at Brentford a few years ago.

The Orientear has long stood up to prejudice at Orient (see Orientear back issues),
as have others, eg. the blog article about ‘Scuba Diver’ at http://wp.me/p1sP4J-5.
There also exists the possibility of raising a problem first with the Club directly
rather than in the national media.

As a result of his approach, for all of McMahon’s “I don’t mean to insult Leyton
Orient or supporters in general” caveats, it felt to many that an unfair picture of a
generally tolerant and welcoming football club was being portrayed via the national

Some women were also irritated by the way McMahon seemed to make the affair
about him. Why didn’t McMahon find out how female Orient fans felt about the
song and try and make alliances with them, or find out how they wanted to try
and deal with it? Solutions to these problems rarely lie in walking away, which
is an individualist response: “I don’t want to hear it” instead of “I don’t want
anyone to hear it”.

Despite all this, it’s clear that something of a line has been drawn. No doubt the
attention-seeking, the childish, the unreconstructed woman-haters and a few other
easily-influenced types will continue to pipe up with the offensive ditty occasion-
ally to provoke a confrontation, but few can claim they didn’t know others find it

Hopefully with time ‘Oh East London’ will die out, just as homophobic chants to-
wards Brighton supporters have thankfully waned in recent times. Despite the feel-
ing that it could have been handled better, if this all helps make Brisbane Road a
more welcoming place for all, including much needed new supporters, we should
be grateful to McMahon for his role in challenging a song which denigrates a large
proportion of our fanbase.

‘Luther Blissett’