With Liverpool set to take on Chelsea on Sunday, it appears as though the Reds—and Mohamed Salah in particular—were on the minds of some travelling Blues supporters ahead of their Europa League match against Slavia Praha on Thursday.
Video of a handful of Chelsea supporters singing a racist, anti-Muslim and anti-Arab chant aimed at Mohamed Salah—specifically, equating the player to a suicide bomber—spread quickly on social media ahead of the match.
Chelsea, for their part, reacted quickly, releasing a statement saying they would “take the strongest possible action” against the perpetrators and instructing club security officers to seek out and bar entry to them if they were identified.
According to reports, three of the six fans seen singing in the video were subsequently identified trying to enter the match in Prague and were barred from entry. Stamford Bridge bans are expected to follow shortly.
While many will be quick to dub fans caught engaging in behaviour such as this “not true fans,” the reality is that they are, and Chelsea have a particularly troubling history of incidents involving racism and violence in the fanbase.
As recently as 2014, the Chelsea Headhunters ultras sought out violence with opposition fan groups in Paris, sparking scenes reminiscent of the worst of 1980s hooligan culture. A year later, again in Paris, there were further incidents.
Beyond those incidents, Headhunters have a troubling history for a club attempting to position itself as an institution in the modern, global game, with strong historical links to violent far-right ethnonationalist groups like Combat 18.
While their importance has diminished, particularly following the sale of the club to Roman Abramovich in 2003, no combination of foreign investment, new fans, and star minority players has yet been able to entirely rob them of influence.
And while Chelsea’s issues with such supporters may appear more significant than elsewhere in the Premier League these days, all clubs—even Liverpool—have pockets of support whose behaviour is inexcusable.
Stamping them out will require the action of the clubs but it will also take a willingness from other supporters to acknowledge that this behaviour does exist, isn’t acceptable, and needs to be tackled head-on rather than swept under the rug.
“This behaviour needs to be called out for what it is—unadulterated bigotry,” reads Liverpool’s statement on the incident. “It is the responsibility of those in positions of authority to act urgently to identify and then punish anyone committing a hate crime.
“There is no place for this behaviour in football, there is no place for it in society. A crime of this nature has more victims than any individual it is aimed at and, as such, collective and decisive action is needed to address it.”