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Fans Make the Difference in Liverpool's Punishment of Islamophobic Supporter

In year's past, an incident like this would have gone unnoticed, but changing attitudes in the stands means that at least some of the club's anti-discrimination procedures are working.

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February saw Chelsea FC deal with multiple instances of racist behaviour on the part of some of its supporters after a Champions League match against Paris Saint-Germain. Most football fans quickly condemned the actions of the Chelsea fans and called for harsh punishments for anyone identified as having participated, but there was a sense of smugness coming from many supporters of rival clubs who seemed to approach the incidents as if they were something their own fans were above.

Of course, bigotry of this stripe — and indeed other stripes — exists in all fan bases. Those who don't have much of a problem with it use this knowledge to absolve themselves of any responsibility in the matter — if everyone is guilty, then no one is responsible — but rather than being an excuse for the behaviour, it should serve as a reminder for us all to call out our own when it happens in our own house.

Liverpool fans had an opportunity to do just that at the start of March after a fellow fan tweeted a photo of two Muslim men taking time to pray at half-time during the FA Cup tie against Blackburn Rovers. Although later claiming to have been hacked, the fan hashtagged the photo calling it a "DISGRACE" and claimed in a previous tweet that it was a prime example of how "fucked" England is as a country.

The push back was sudden and swift.

It should warm even the most misanthropic of hearts that the tide appears to be turning on fan attitudes that would have been best left in a previous era. That so many called this person out on his ignorance was something that might not necessarily have happened a year ago, let alone five or ten years ago. Complaints made to Liverpool FC prompted the club to officially report the tweet to Merseyside police.

"Merseyside Police investigated the matter and has referred this to LFC to take appropriate action against the individual involved," the club said in a statement issued on Tuesday. "The club is currently in the process of determining the appropriate action to take and a further update statement will be made in due course.

"Liverpool Football Club would like to remind its supporters that it does not tolerate any form of discrimination and is committed to ensuring that the club and Anfield provides a welcoming and safe environment for all fans regardless of race, religion, gender, age, disability or sexual orientation."

It would be easy to give the club lots of credit for doing the bare minimum when being made aware of an incident like this, and in a Sepp "Racism is solved with a handshake!" Blatter football world filled with lots of anti-discriminatory talk but not a lot of anti-discriminatory action it certainly feels like something is being done. But part of clubs taking the lead on anti-discrimination efforts is not just doing their due diligence well after the fact, but to be present to combat it in the moment.

The fan who tweeted about the #DISGRACE he had witnessed tried to loop in the club's official Twitter handle for an explanation as to how they could possibly allow Muslims to pray in the stadium, obviously hoping that the club might side with him. The club not only missed an obvious chance to stand up for the two men by failing to respond, but also to make it clear that it takes no issue with anyone finding a quiet moment to practice their faith. It's something that might not have been best trusted to the interns running the account, of course, but it was a missed opportunity nonetheless.

At the end of the day, this fan's ignorance is one that requires significant cognitive dissonance and wilful obliviousness to maintain. That two of Liverpool's three best centre backs at the moment are practicing Muslims themselves — one of whom prays on the pitch prior to the start of each match — seems to have escaped Islamophobic fans, who seem content with Emre Can and Mamadou Sakho starting over Dejan Lovren, good Christian lad and lover of Jesus tattoos.

It also ignores that the club probably wouldn't have much of a problem with these two men praying at half time. As part of the Anfield redevelopment currently under way, the club will be building a multi-faith prayer room for fans who might need one, and truly the only #DISGRACE at the moment is that they don't already have one when so many other stadiums across England and the rest of Europe do.

As Liverpool's fanbase continues to grow and diversify, incidents like this one will hopefully become a thing of the past. But while there still exists a segment of support bound up in their own very narrow definitions of who qualifies to be a fan — or English, even — the efforts of other supporters to step up and call out those moments of indecency will be more important than ever now that they've been shown to have measurable results.

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