In honour of a good man

Tales of an East Anglian Derby

For many years, Oz's work has encouraged people to break down social barriers and challenge stigmatising views. Much of this has been done through facilitating dialogue at public events through programmes such as The Human Library and SoMe. However, there are times when the need to challenge inappropriate behaviour comes closer to home.

As the director of a Community Interest Company, The Outsiders, Oz had one issue with his co-director – he supports Norwich and Oz supported Ipswich. We use this to talk about putting prejudice to one side for more important causes, but Oz said they didn’t speak for a few days after the East Anglian Derby. That takes me on to the purpose of this blog.

On Sunday February 18th, Ipswich played away at Norwich in a game now referred to as ‘The Old Farm’ derby . Even though the game has a midday kickoff, plenty of alcohol is consumed and fans get in the mood by chanting all sorts of songs at each other.

Whilst the language and nature of almost all of the songs didn't bother Oz, there is was one that did. A very small minority of Ipswich fans sing a song referencing the fact that an former Norwich player, Justin Fashanu, was gay and chant about his suicide in a celebratory way. At this particular game, three men behind Oz started to sing this song. He turned to them and asked them to stop. For the next ten minutes, they continually made comments such as ‘I wonder if he’ll let us sing this song’. They were also quite abusive to Oz's wife when she told them to stop singing that song.

Oz had never punched anyone in his life but with this going on behind him, he described how he had a clenched fist and felt very angry. He was ready to take a swing and probably end up getting a kicking for it. It reminded Oz that he'd rather deal with situations through dialogue, not physical aggression. At half-time, he turned to these guys and told them that while he didn’t want to ruin their enjoyment of the game, he was going to explain why that song is not OK.

He told them that he lost a very close friend to suicide and that last year he did something for the 10th anniversary of his death. He loved football and was a huge Oxford United Fan – Oxford made it to a cup final at Wembley a week before the anniversary so he went in his place because he would have loved to have been there. He bought an Oxford shirt at Wembley, framed it and put it on his grave. These guys said ‘ shit man, we were just trying to wind up the Budgies and just didn’t think about stuff like that’.

Subsequently, when Ipswich scored, these fellas made a point of celebrating with Oz. At the end of the game, they all shook his hand and apologised and said they would think a bit more about what they sing in future. It made Oz realised that verbal communication is better than throwing a punch, even though that can be the instinctive thing we sometimes feel when provoked and angry.

Oz hoped that they wouldn't sing that song again, and that they might challenge any other fans that do.

With emotion, Oz stated he felt like a stronger man for taking this approach than he would have by acting on a initial instinct.

Oz was truly a good man. His absence will be so badly missed. Our love and thoughts are with his family and friends.

tim allard