England’s chant about Rio and Anton Ferdinand – racist or banter?

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Question: is the following chant concerning Rio Ferdinand and his brother Anton racist or banter?

‘Build a bonfire, 

Build a bonfire,

Put Rio on the top,

Put Anton in the middle,

Then burn the f****** lot.

The chant – allegedly sung by England supporters during last Friday’s World Cup Qualifier against San Marino – was reported to FIFA by Football Against Racism in Europe (FARE), a pan-European entity whose goal is to rid racism from football.

FARE, headed by Piara Powar, was not present at the game to hear the chant because apparently San Marino was not a ‘high risk’ match for racism. But FARE nevertheless chose to file the report based on information from people who were present at the match (in other words, it appears the group’s argument is based entirely on hearsay). The group also reported racist or xenophobic incidents at Croatia v. Serbia and Poland v. Ukraine, matches where members were present.

FIFA will now review the report and decide whether action should be taken against England. If the governing body decides that FARE’s report has merit, England will be punished with the ultimate sanction potentially requiring the Three Lions to play a World Cup qualifier behind closed doors.

Powar explained why his group believes the song to be racist. “It refers to the racist abuse Rio Ferdinand received, along with his brother Anton. We don’t make the judgement. We send a report to FIFA but in the end its their decision whether they open proceedings or not. And whether they issue a fine or not.

“It’s not really the sort of thing we are generally attuned to looking at – fans abusing players of their own country who may not have been picked. Nevertheless if it happens at a game, even if the focus of the abuse isn’t there it’s still happening.

“One of the things we want to underline straight off is that sometimes racism doesn’t only take the form of monkey chants or bananas being thrown. Sometimes there are things that are more subtle at play.

“In the end we are not responsible for making a decision on whether England fans are guilty of racism here but we do have a duty to report things that are said to us because individuals have reported them as racist or xenophobic within the context.”

Rio Ferdinand took to Twitter to share his thoughts on the news. “You expect and accept banter from fans on the terraces as it’s part of what makes the game great, but racism is not banter and from your own fans. WOW.

“Always a small minority who ruin it for others.”

The Manchester United defender was careful, however, to note that the investigation still needs to run its course. “Let’s not jump to conclusions and assume though as it might just have been banter. We’ll see after the investigation.”

England fans took to Sportsmail comment boards to express views that ranged from confusion to outrage. The fans’ primary arguments are that 1) the song has been around a long time and 2) it was only directed at Rio due to his recent behavior. “‘Build a bonfire’ is an old football chant and one used by miners about Thatcher,” said a fan by the name of ‘ghanimah’. “Given Rio’s behaviour it’s no wonder they sung about him but if that’s deemed racist then we should all pack our bags, go home and give up… Absolutely ludicrous.”

‘Tone 827’ echoed these sentiments. “Dont get me wrong its a stupid chant and aimed at causing distress….but is it really racist? Are we getting to the point where just a derogatory remark to someone who is of afro-carribean descent is deemed racism? As a white British man (who is absolutely NOT racist) its starting to grate a bit now…Rio was working for a TV channel covering the game, it was inevitable he was going to get some stick, at least he is being sensible about it and accepting that banter happens, lets not get to the point where nobody can say anything without being accused of racism even if it clearly is not.”

So what do you think? Is the chant – within the context of being directed at Rio and Anton Ferdinand – racist or just banter? Help decide by voting in ProSoccerTalk’s poll and share your views in the Comments below.

New York Red Bulls introduce space at RBA for autistic families

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HARRISON, N.J. (AP) The Red Bulls have announced plans for a permanent sensory-friendly space at their stadium for families impacted by autism.

Formerly executive offices, the space overlooking midfield is a calm area that is free from the crowds and the noise of Red Bull Arena during matches. Families can use it for free.

The team announced the new space on Saturday before the Red Bulls were set to host the Chicago Fire. It was Autism Awareness Night at the stadium.

“Families deserve to feel welcome and comfortable each time they step foot into Red Bull Arena, not just one night a year,” Red Bulls GM Marc de Grandpre said in a statement released by the club. “We hope all sports teams and entertainment venues are inspired to take similar action to provide comfort for families with loved ones on the autism spectrum.”

League Two game restarted in empty stadium after fans storm field

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LONDON (AP) An English soccer game restarted in an empty stadium after a pitch invasion led to the crowd being told the fixture had been abandoned.

There were five minutes remaining in Leyton Orient’s fourth-tier game against Colchester on Saturday when a sit-down protest was staged on the pitch by Orient fans against Italian owner Francesco Becchetti.

It forced the referee to take the players off the field. The protests lasted for more than an hour before the crowd was told the game had been abandoned and the stadium eventually cleared. The teams came out and finished the game.

Leyton Orient lost 3-1 a week after its relegation from the English Football League was confirmed after 112 years.

“A decision was taken with the police to announce that the game had been abandoned as it was felt this would help clear the pitch, which proved correct,” the EFL said in a statement. “However, it was deemed appropriate that the game needed to be played to a conclusion in order to maintain the integrity of the competition.”

La Liga: Barcelona, Real Madrid hold serve in tight title race

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A roundup of Saturday’s action in Spain’s top flight…

[ MORE: Super-duper Sunday preview — North London derby, plus 6 of top 7 ]

Espanyol 0-3 Barcelona

Barcelona are doing all they can do — win — in their bid to usurp Real Madrid in the race for the title. While they entered the weekend — and still are — ahead of their El Clasico rivals based on head-to-head results this season, Los Blancos still have a game in hand which will surely decide whether Madrid claim their 33rd top-division title, or a 25th for Barca.

On Saturday, Luis Enrique’s side had more than just the title at stake — also at stake: the Derbi Barceloni, against fellow Catalan side Espanyol.

For 45 minutes, the home side held firm and refused to break, but once Luis Suarez put the Blaugrana ahead in the 50th minute, that was all she wrote. Ivan Rakitic doubled the advantage in the 76th minute, and Suarez completed the scoring 11 minutes later.

Real Madrid 2-1 Valencia

By the time the derby kicked off, Madrid had already applied the pressure and gone three points clear with a 2-1 victory that was a whole lot closer than the final score indicates.

Cristiano Ronaldo opened the scoring just before the half-hour mark, and Zinedine Zidane’s side was well on its way to victory. Ronaldo followed up his opening goal with a missed penalty kick 10 minutes into the second half, and Daniel Parejo pulled the visitors level with a sensational free kick just eight minutes before the end of regular time. Points looked sure to be dropped, and the door opened wider for Barca, but Marcelo was prepared to play the part of hero on the day, and the Brazilian left back bagged one of the season’s more improbable goals, a right-footed strike from the top of the box, in the 86th minute.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Las Palmas 0-5 Atletico Madrid
Real Sociedad 2-1 Granada

Sunday’s La Liga schedule

Osasuna vs. Deportivo La Coruña — 6 a.m. ET
Real Betis vs. Alaves — 10:15 a.m. ET
Eibar vs. Leganes — 12:30 p.m. ET
Celta Vigo vs. Athletic Bilbao — 2:45 p.m. ET

Monday’s La Liga schedule

Malaga vs. Sevilla — 3 p.m. ET

Championship Focus: It’s all about the playoff places now

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With Brighton & Hove Albion and Newcastle United having already clinched the Championship’s two automatic promotion places, all eyes turn to the four teams behind them still jockeying for playoff positioning…

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s coverage of the Championship ]

3rd — Reading — 82 points, +2 GD
4th — Sheffield Wednesday — 81 points, +16 GD
5th — Huddersfield Town — 81 points, +1 GD
6th — Fulham — 77 points, +27 GD

First of all, the Championship remains the least sensible league in the world. Disagree? Just try to explain the above wildly varying points totals and the corresponding goal differentials. Go ahead, I’ll wait

As for the weekend’s results, Reading and Wednesday did themselves major favors in the race for third with victories over Wigan Athletic (1-0) and Ipswich Town (1-0), respectively, while Huddersfield, who entered the weekend in that top playoff place, played 67 minutes with a man advantage against Birmingham City, and lost 2-0. All three of Reading, Wednesday and Huddersfield have clinched their place in the promotion playoffs, which begin two weeks from Saturday, on May 13.

[ MORE: PL Sunday preview — North London derby, plus 6 of the top 7 play ]

Given Leeds United’s 3-3 draw with Norwich City, a win would have clinched the fourth and final playoff place for Fulham, but the Cottagers dropped a pair of points themselves in a 1-1 draw with Brentford at Craven Cottage. Still, Fulham are all but into the playoffs with a three-point lead on Leeds, and a goal differential that’s 13 goals better.