Some of them want to abuse you

April 30, 2011 § 11 Comments

Empty seats at the City of Manchester Stadium

Paul Wilson, writing in the Guardian, recently made the rather remarkable suggestion that “it is debatable whether [Manchester] City fans are trying to offend [Manchester] United fans with the term ‘Munichs'”, suggesting instead that the nickname derives from a desire on the part of City fans to emphasise the differences between the clubs. He cites City supporters who “say they would never chant anything unpleasant or inflammatory about Munich but see no issue with using the word itself as shorthand for United and their supporters”.

Before addressing the piece directly, it’s worth drawing a distinction. “Munichs” is a catch-all generalisation for Manchester United fans. As such, like all generalised terms of abuse, it can be used in two ways that are distinct in character and so represent a different problem. The first is a latent and generalised use; the second is a specific and targeted use.

Pick a racist epithet; any racist epithet. Now, imagine you’re the kind of person who uses this epithet as a matter of course in reference to the racial group denoted. There are two ways the word can work for you:

The first is as a general and normalised term of reference. When in conversation with other like-minded folk it is the term of choice — “there was this Welsh fucker at work”; “not bad, for a Welshman”; “bloody Welsh, coming over here, taking our jobs” — and when thinking about the Welsh, it’s in those terms. The Welsh are known as such as a matter of course and, importantly, there is no specific or distinct Welshman toward whom the term is directed.

The second is as a specific term of abuse towards a given target: “Fuck you, you Welsh bastard(s)”. I think we all know how those work.

Obviously, being called “Welsh” is less a term of great offence and more a massive compliment, but I hope the structural point is clear. Indeed, I would suggest that most racists who use “Welsh” (or whatever) as a term of general abuse would shy away from specifically abusing a given Welshman, at least without some provocation. British society, while still laced with both institutionalised and overt racism, has at least progressed to the point where racist abuse is recognised as such and is therefore kept for the most part sub rosa, at least in public.

Returning to the football, I would suggest there is a similar distinction between the actions of a City fan (or whoever) who generally refers to Manchester United fans as “Munichs”, and another City fan (or whoever) that directs the term towards a specific Manchester United fan. Use of the term in general, without a United fan to hand, isn’t intended to offend anyone in particular, and this, I think, is what Wilson is alluding to: because the use of the term as a shorthand is generally done away from United ears, and isn’t meant to offend, then it isn’t offensive.

But this makes sense only if we understand offensiveness as being entirely determined by the intention of the speaker, which doesn’t really seem tenable. In general, we conceive of certain terms as being offensive in and of themselves. Of course, for any given offence caused, the context, delivery, and specific details all play a part, but it doesn’t make sense to assert that just because an abusive term is spoken out of earshot, it loses what offensive valency it would otherwise possess. It is heartily disingenuous of the City fans Wilson refers to (who are not quoted directly and so may simply be rhetorically convenient devices) to state that they would not taunt a United fan to their face, but would happily do so behind their back. Disingenuous and cowardly.

Obviously, it is in many important ways less offensive to refer to United fans as “Munichs” in passing than it is to march up to a United fan and scream “fuck you, you Munich cunt”. But the normalisation of the term is problematic. If, as Wilson seems to be suggesting, the term is viewed by those using it as simply a handy referent without any thought to the fact that it might be offensive, then we would have to assume that the same people would have no problem referring to the residents of Christchurch as “Quakers” or the Kennedys as “splatheads”. After all, use of a nickname for a club is a deliberate act of reference, designed to re-frame the club in ulterior terms. United have a name; to use anything else is to make a point, in one way or another. If it’s ManUre, you’re going for the cheap lulz of the inadequate; if it’s Munichs, you’re going for the darker chuckles of the chronically morbid.

In conclusion:

i) if a prick opens his mouth in a forest, and there’s nobody there to hear it, he’s still a prick;

ii) if you wouldn’t say it to someone’s face, but will say it behind someone’s back, then you’re a hypocrite and a coward. And still a prick;

iii) it’s not okay to pretend that referring to the supporters of a football club by a name specifically designed to evoke memories of death, devastation and despair is anything other than ignorant fuckwittery of the highest order.


Some notes:

The piece, being a response to a specific article, doesn’t contain the traditional nods towards generality or acknowledgement of other structurally similar terms of abuse, etc., that relate to other clubs. Frankly, it should be obvious and in any case it would get unwieldy. The point of the piece, however, is a general point, and can refer to any or all of these terms equally effectively. Feel free to mentally swap in and out as you please.

For some further reading on related topics, I refer you to these excellent pieces from Iain Macintosh and Dave Hartrick.

And finally, I know it’s a minority of City fans. And I’m sure some United fans do similar or worse. Very much not the point.


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§ 11 Responses to Some of them want to abuse you

  • Graham says:

    I think the most important thing most obviously wrong with Wilson’s article is that even should they wish to refer to team in some sort of shorthand, they are deliberately picking one known to be offensive. Which all seems rather silly if they’re just looking for a name to call the club in private.

    ‘Manchester United’ might be a bit of a mouthful but ‘United’ rather rolls off the tongue.

    • twistedblood says:

      I believe “Rags” is used, though I confess I’m a little unsure on the etymology.

      *pops to the Urban Dictionary*

      “Rags are the Man United Scum who visit the theatre of scaffolding every other Saturday. Not usually from the Manchester area.”

      Theatre of Scaffolding is brilliant!

  • Doron says:

    The response I’d got from speaking to City fans, many of whom were younger was that they’re blind ignorant.

    According to them, they use the term ‘Munichs’ in the same way we use the term ‘Bitters’ – a word for describing a group of supporters of a football club. The difference is of course, we are describing them as bitter, and therefore interpret us being called ‘Munichs’ as offensive.

    The City fans I spoke to genuinely don’t intend to cause harm with the use of the word ‘Munichs’ and don’t understand how it can possible be offensive. They said they use it as it’s what they’ve heard those older use and see it as a generalisation of United fans rather than saying it knowing what emotions the word evokes.

    If I’m giving these few City fans the benefit of the doubt and I believe their story (which I oddly feel inclined to do) then there is a problem. The problem is they need to understand that it IS an offensive word and they need to understand why it was first used.

    It is very very different from calling them Bitters, very different and that’s where the issue comes.

    In that respect I can understand why Wilson suggests that some City fans use the term without the intention to cause offence. I think that is true amongst some, but they’re in the minority.

    There needs to be a re-education of what Munich was all about and why it is such an important event to United fans. Hopefully the two BBC programmes will go some of the way to making that happen. Certainly the City fans I spoke to said it wouldn’t be a word they used any more now they fully understand why it gets the reaction it does.

    Good piece as always though. Important people read this.

    • twistedblood says:

      Cheers Doron.

      I take your point. However, as a possible counter-point, it might be suggested that anybody above the age of, say, 16, should be able to realise that “Munichs” is going to be offensive in a way that “Rags” (or whatever) isn’t. (Unless you’ve never actually heard of the aircrash, that is.)

      Obviously, the normalisation inhibits this to a certain extent, but I still think people have a responsibility (in general, not just in this context) to engage with and consider the words they use for themselves, not just fall into a term because everyone uses it.

      However, I think you’re right; there’s a lot of unthinking usage. And, as with everything, the solution is education. I’m always particularly surprised at City fans, since one of their own, Frank Swift, died along with the Babes.

  • Giles Barrett says:

    I quite agree. Football chants done well raise mockery to an art form, and needless to say this morbid cruelty is anything but. As you know, I only started following football a couple of years ago, and whenever I’ve managed to get to the Emirates I’ve been disappointed by the chanting. Shock horror, etc, but what particularly struck me was the dominance of “Stand up if you hate Tottenham”. Now Sp*rs can piss me off as much as the next gooner, but we weren’t even playing them and it came off as pointless and petty. Slag off the opposition, by all means, but have some class about it, please.

    • twistedblood says:

      Agreed. There is the capacity and the ability for great wit in football abuse, and it’s all too rare. In part I suspect that this is due to the simple, visceral reaction that can be provoked by more straightforward taunting; “Munichs”, or the runway song, anger United fans more than any witty chant could.

  • Nick says:

    A fine piece, to be sure. It is a great shame that having spent half a century as a country on this stuff, we are still asking ourselves this kind of question. Using the term Munich in this context is awful, and in conclusion, it makes you an insensitive and grotesque wart on the end of a tiny, flaccid cock.

  • Andrew Young says:

    This is a really well written and articulate piece

    I know people say Utd take the piss out of Hillsborough with chants etc but we don’t refer to Liverpool fans as Hillsboroughs. And to say ‘you do such-a-thing so it’s ok for me to do such-a-thing to you’.

    My final thought is that I think of the term Munichs and it’s like they are saying the tragedy defines what Manchester United are, and in some ways it does. That’s not to justify their ignorance but Munich has defined Man Utd as has the ability to rise from tragedy and a bloody mindedness, indefatigable attitude which is why I love the club

    • twistedblood says:

      Agreed. “You do it so I do it” is irrelevant in the extreme.

      As for the tragedy (and the club’s response) defining the club, to a certain extent, you’re spot on. And as football abuse is, at root, an assault on character – an assertion of the superiority of one identity over another – then it’s inevitable that it comes up.

  • Jonathan says:

    Wilson really outdid himself with that piece of nonsense he wrote in the Guardian. I mean he’s bad at the best of times but wow. ABU to the bitter end.

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