When banter becomes more than a little scrimmage

They tell me that Norwich City have the oldest football song in the world. If not, they almost certainly have the only one with the word “scrimmage” in it.

I suppose you could say I am a supporter of the Canaries. As a schoolboy (in the early 1960s) I stood in the South Stand on a fairly regular basis, and was part of the 40,000 swaying, cheek-by-jowl crowd who watched City play Leicester one memorable Saturday. The capacity for the current, rather larger, seated stadium is around 27,000, and my wife has a season ticket.

I don’t, which is why I wasn’t at the derby match against Ipswich Town recently. I do go to Carrow Road on occasion, but I am not a die-hard fan, slotted into the Barclay End, waving a flag, making up witty topical songs to fit the players’ names and being generally abusive to the opposing fans, especially if they come from Suffolk.

I am not against a bit of banter, such as the chant “You don’t know what you’re doing” directed at the referee. Similarly “Who are you?” or “What’s the score?” directed at the opposing fans or manager.

What I don’t have any truck with is the real abuse, verging on violence, aimed at small groups of individual visiting supporters. Mixed in there is heartfelt hatred, frighteningly close to riot and affray, causing real harm to real people who are just like us.

It’s one small step from calling Ipswich supporters “scum” to punching them in the mouth.

Admittedly, Ipswich is in Suffolk. But to be quite honest and risking personal harm, I have to confess that I quite like Suffolk, despite its nonsensical speed limits. Is there any real reason for Norfolk and Suffolk people to be at odds? How far are we from having a hard border, a backstop, bombing and other atrocities?

Bit extreme, you may say. All this violent talk is just a bit of fun. Maybe it’s a safety valve of some kind. No-one gets hurt.

But they do, don’t they? Words turn into deeds, and all too soon you have a little scrimmage, bones get broken, bodies cut and bruised.

I should emphasise that Norwich fans are not known for this sort of behaviour. But once passions get unleashed, almost anything can happen. It has in the past, and it will again. It stems from repeated insults, mindless abuse, creeps into hatred and without thinking – yes, definitely without thinking – it goes too far.

Just like Brexit, really.