This is the “disturbing” moment when West Ham fans turned on their own Muslim supporters as they prayed just before half-time at Saturday’s match against Manchester City.
The small group of Muslim supporters were kneeling eastwards and bowing their heads in the concourse of the Sir Trevor Brooking Stand at Upton Park, east London, when they were spotted by fellow fans.
They were conducting their Mahgrib prayers at about 6pm – the fourth of devout Muslims’ five prayers a day. It was about 10 minutes before half-time and the concourse was relatively quiet.
The supporters, who are understood not to have made any complaint, had been invited to the club as part of a highly commended initiative to forge closer links with local community groups. As such the sight of fans praying would have been unusual. They were met first by disbelief, then swearing and finally by increasingly loud chants of “Irons”, the club’s nickname, apparently intended to drown out the prayers.
The Muslim fans turned round anxiously to see they were being filmed and stared at, but then carried on with their ritual. The video, which was posted on the Facebook page of a West Ham fan, shows stewards watching the potential flashpoint and talking into their walkie-talkie radios.
West Ham’s Boleyn Ground in east London is situated in a heavily Muslim area of east London and the Premier League club draws on significant support from that local community.
This evening, one prominent campaigner against anti-Muslim prejudice and a leading MP called on Premier League clubs to invest in prayer rooms for fans so such abuse could be avoided. Fiyaz Mughal, who runs the anti-Muslim hatred hotline Tell Mama, described the videos as “very worrying”, adding the incident had already been reported to him.
He said: “While the people praying are in a corner and not causing any particular commotion, the responses are very worrying and prejudicial. One of the things that many organisations like the Community Security Trust and Show Racism the Red Card have done is to challenge racism and prejudice in football.
“Here we are seeing it come out again. It is also worrying since if we want football to be a national inclusive sport, such behaviour is a barrier towards it. So, if people are not obstructing entrances, remain quiet and are not intruding on others, they should not be liable to this abuse.”
He added: “There should be a non-denominational quiet prayer room. Clubs have space and one which is a quiet space will actually give them a better status with faithful fans. The room may be used more by Muslims, but there are times when others may want to use it.”
Jim Fitzpatrick, a Labour MP who represents a nearby constituency and who is a long time West Ham fan, said: “It’s pretty disturbing that people who were observing their religion appear to have been intimidated. This is wholly unsatisfactory. It would be great for anybody who wishes to observe their religion to have somewhere to go so they’re not at risk of hugely insensitive behaviour or worse.”
Kick It Out, football’s anti-racism campaign group, said it had been touch with the club and was monitoring the situation.
On the Facebook page where the videos were posted, some comments made jokes about “bacon sandwiches”, while one man said: “I’m no racist but seeing bout 30 Muslims get their prayer mats out at half time in front of a loada west ham fans at the game in the concourse has to be one of the dumbest things they can do if they don’t wana be targeted or stereotyped in society. # Not doing yourself any favours.”
West Ham declined to comment tonight but a spokesman pointed to the good work the club does with local community groups. The fans had been invited as part of that work and Joe Lyons, head of West Ham United Community Sports Trust. said before Saturday’s game: “Our focus is on engaging with our community and making football more accessible to all and we want everyone from the local area to feel included at the club.”
See also Rod Liddle’s comment piece on his Spectator blog. He sneeringly refers to Muslims as “locals” in ironic quotation marks – because, of course, only white East Londoners really qualify as local people – and he suggests that the West Ham fans responsible for the abuse and harassment were quite entitled to behave as they did. Liddle mockingly suggests that the West Ham board should consider providing “prayer mats and halal pies” in future. What a contemptible racist shit this man is.
Update: The English Defence League offers its view of the controversy:
Update 2: Tell Mama have an interview with Aamir, one of the Muslims who was harassed and abused while praying. He reports that they were subjected to shouts of “fucking Pakis, go home” and “E, E, EDL”.
Update 3: See also “Muslims face racist chants at West Ham”, BBC Asian Network, 24 October 2013