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‘Feed the Scousers’ chant that mocks poverty is not ‘banter’



It started first in the King Power’s East Stand, amongst a section of Leicester City supporters nearest the away fans. They repeated their taunt irregularly during the game, but the chant was not contained there.

In the second half, the South Stand and North Stand joined in too. “Feed the Scousers,” rang out from a section of a stand designated as a family area. Good luck sidestepping that irony before it hits you in the face.

This is not about Leicester City fans, or not only about them; viewing this through the prism of a single club undermines the point. It’s Christmas time in the Premier League and that means it’s time to chant about poverty to football supporters from Merseyside, an area of the country perceived to be the worst afflicted by a societal disease that lies in every city and town in the country to greater and lesser extents.

It is helpful to begin by understanding the predictable defence: this is just a chant and this is just banter. Ask a selection of those supporters on Tuesday night who partook in the song and the majority would say that they were simply using it as a tool to wind up Liverpool fans. To them, the aim is more important than the words.

And any criticism of their song will be viewed as a stance of unhelpful wokeness, that term used as an insult by those who refuse to believe that “wokeness” simply reflects an intention not to be an irredeemable d___. We are at the football and at the football we banter. If you can’t stand the heat, stay at home in your echo chamber, snowflake.

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But that argument falls down quickly. Chants about racism and homophobia are against the law and thus punishable, but there are other topics that almost every football supporter would consider beyond the pale on decency grounds. You would not chant about cancer or, to be topical, you would not mock those who have died of Covid-19. That suggests that an unwritten code does exist. And poverty should be part of that code.

For banter to avoid becoming b*nter, it must have a vein of humour running through it. What is funny about 2.5 million people in the UK using a food bank in 2020 and 2021? Where is the punchline in children growing up in abject poverty and often not getting a hot meal from one day to the next? At what point do you think using the state of a nation in which almost a quarter of households are behind on their bills is something to joke about rather than lament?

But worse than that, poverty chants are a grim example of punching down. It is particularly tasteless at football matches because football was a working-class sport that eventually transformed into middle-class leisure pursuit through the rise in ticket prices and because it is one of the few places where people gather en masse and proudly display their tribalism. Very few at the King Power on Tuesday will have experienced poverty because the cheapest season ticket renewal in the East Stand cost £420 last summer.

As for the geographical slur to Merseyside, take a look around you. According to the End Child Poverty Coalition, in 2017 Leicester was eighth in the table of local authorities with the highest rates of child poverty in the UK; the percentage of children in poverty after housing costs was 41 per cent. In January this year, 12 per cent of adults in the city were worried about having enough food. Rising energy prices, the end of the Universal Credit uplift and the impact of Covid-19 will only make things harder. Leicester City are a football club that does brilliant things for its community. If nothing else, demonstrate your love for that club by following their example.

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Again, this isn’t just Leicester City supporters; they are merely the latest example of the “Feed the Scousers” slur. This isn’t just football either. In this country, to suffer poverty is to somehow accept some culpability for your fate. It comes with the accusation that you are workshy, that you have massaged benefits culture for your own gain, by those who have been fortunate to avoid the same circumstances and in doing so have persuaded themselves – or been hardwired to believe – that their position has been achieved purely through skill or hard work.

And that matters. Societal inequalities are established by governments, but they are propelled by the people for as long as the people are happy to mock those worse off than them. They become foot soldiers of inequality, punching down on those who must know their place and accept their fate. And conversely, the only way to address this inequality is through love, support and sympathy. You might not think that a chant matters. It might only be banter to you. But it makes a difference.

Before Tuesday night’s game, Leicester City gave out a free can of beer to every adult supporter as a gesture of thanks for their support – just another way in which this club demonstrates its gratitude for those who spend their time, money and energy on their beloved club. We can presume that some of those who enjoyed their pre-match drink mocked the away end, using the perception of Merseyside as poverty-stricken as their slur.

Twenty-four hours later, a mile from the King Power, volunteers will hand out food parcels at the Manor House Neighbourhood Centre to those who need it most. Those two queues only exist in isolation from one another if our behaviour demands it. Football supporters can do better and football supporters must do better. You don’t get to conclude that it’s just a chant and you are part of the problem if you cannot be dissuaded from that conclusion.

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