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My friend was about 15 years old when he was on a trip to the UK. He is an Indian and was in the UK for just a short trip and had an odd incident which made us all think a good amount of what happened at that point of time.

He was wearing a Manchester United or some other famous football club hat while visiting Trafalgar Square. He had recently bought the hat in the UK and had no intention to offend anyone and was walking with another friend simply taking a look at things.

One gentleman came to him and threatened him to remove his hat and throw it in the bin or hand it over to him. My friend obviously hesitated and said that he doesn't mean any harm and would remove it and keep it in his hand if it offended that gentleman. The gentleman insisted on it and threatened to shove my friend in the bin. Hearing this, my friend handed over the hat to him and ran away.

After this incident, we deduced that this was either a case of some strong nationalism or the fact that the gentleman disliked an Indian person wearing a hat for English football club. I'm certainly not referring to the fact that this is common in the UK as I did not experience it on my visit there, but it certainly did concern me regarding my or my family's safety.

Are there any do's or don'ts my friend missed which he should have taken care of when this incident happened or was it just bad luck?

I understand that this question can come out wrong and my intention is not to offend anyone. My intention is to simply discuss safety while traveling to the UK and analyze this incident a little more and ensure that this can be prevented in future.

Edit: As it would seem and I believe it is correct, some users were slightly affected by my use of incorrect terminology. I do not intend to portray this as a racially biased question. Hence the removal from the title. I am not a racist person and as a traveler, portraying this as racism was not my intention. I deeply apologize if I have offended anybody on the same. I have been to several cities in the UK including London, Manchester and Cambridge and have had a hearty experience there. Once again, let us restrict our talks to security and safety of travelers and the frequency of such incidents.

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Turns out, there are idiots all over the world. Sounds like your friend found one. –  Doc Jun 19 at 5:32
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@Doc Imagine a 15 year old kid. He was pretty freaked out. –  Aditya Somani Jun 19 at 5:33
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He doesn't sound much like a "gentleman". –  Lightness Races in Orbit Jun 19 at 16:51
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@LightnessRacesinOrbit A smart man once said, "Never lose your manners" –  Aditya Somani Jun 19 at 17:15
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Probably too late to go to the police, but it sounds like your friend was robbed. –  billpg Jun 20 at 15:26

6 Answers 6

up vote 21 down vote accepted

I guess this is a case of bad luck. I wouldn't expect this behaviour in London, which is quite a diverse city with a lot of different opinions and flavours. London has everything. Regarding the Manchester United fan wear, I also wouldn't worry that much in London, nor in other UK cities. You might take a lower profile when there is match in town of the club your are wearing fan wear of.

I think that the guy was just your average jerk. Most avid football supporters usually ignore kids, because in the end every supporter wants to enjoy football with their kids.

Would this happen again, don't engage in a discussion or even express an apology, just walk away and look for security. Go into a coffeeshop , a big shop with security or see if there is police near by to report the idiot. I am pretty sure police is abundant on places like trafalgar square.

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most hooligans aren't "avid supporters", they just claim to be in order to get in a crowd and have anonymity there. –  jwenting Jun 19 at 9:58

That's neither nationalism or racism, it's just fanatical fanhood for (or against, which is often the same thing) a specific sports club.
And yes, that's common in the UK when it comes to football, just like it is in many other European countries.
If you're from say the US, it's somewhat similar when it comes to baseball or American football.
Though your average fan of one team there might not threaten physical violence against a fan of another team, can you rule it out?

Like it or not, people are passionate about their sports and especially their favourite teams, and some people take that to the extreme of literally attacking and destroying the symbols of (certain) opposing teams.
It's so bad that in many European cities they won't allow visiting fan clubs from opposing cities to enter the city at match time, the fans being shipped in in locked trains and busses under police escort directly to the stadium, and back home again the same way.
Anything less controled is a recipe for riots and wanton destruction, sadly.

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Excuse me, but that is nonsense. The guy was in London, not in Liverpool during a match, where you might expect this behaviour (although I doubt that). No this is certainly not common, nor in the UK nor in the rest of Europe. I also wouldn't rule out racism here or an bullying UKIP idiot. Next time this happens just try to locate a police officer and report it. –  andra Jun 19 at 7:56
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@andra If the motivation was racist I would have expected the OP to mention that the guy also made various racist insults and remarks. This interpretation of events (that the guy was a bully and perhaps a man city fan) is just as likely as the other one in my view. Either way they were just unlucky. Certainly not a typical event in Trafalgar Square. –  Martin Smith Jun 19 at 8:50
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Trafalgar Square and the surrounding area (Right through towards Waterloo and The London Eye to the south and Victoria and Buckingham Palace to the west) is incredibly diverse, and to think this was racist is a little shortsighted. I work about 10 minutes away in an office with people from all over the world, and none complain of racism in this area. Besides, there was no mention of race whatsoever. Football is a much more likely issue. –  Fergus Morrow Jun 19 at 10:00
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@andra from his story there's no indication whatsoever racism had a part. No racist remarks were uttered, he didn't even mention his race or that of his assailant. Or are you a racist who automatically assumes that everyone else is racist? –  jwenting Jun 19 at 10:12
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Guys, take it to the Travel Chat, keep long discussions out of comments. –  Mark Mayo Jun 19 at 12:08

Just to make this clear: This has nothing to do with nationalism or being a fan of some football club. It has only to do with some idiot trying to make himself feel big and strong by threatening a 15 year old child. People going to football matches and then getting into fights don't get into fights because they are fans of some football club, they get into fights because they want to get into a fight.

I'm sure your friend didn't have any intention to offend anyone. The person he met, on the other hand, had every intention to be offended about anything that gave him an excuse to be offended. He would have been enormously offended by you calling him a "gentleman", because his intention was to be offended.

And there is no need for you to apologise for anything. Seriously. The only thing your friend could have done better would have been to run away as quick as possible, and perhaps contact the police. But that's not something that you could expect a 15 year old in a foreign country to know.

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Since you ask for do's and don'ts, and I don't think anybody has said this in the answers so far:

It is unfortunately true in the UK, that it's probably safest not to wear team clothing for a team you don't know much about.

The simple reason is that if it just so happens to be a match day, or if the team has recently done something notable, or if you're in an area frequented by fans of a rival team, then some people will react to it. Some reactions will be negative, and some of those will be extreme. If you don't actually follow the team then you're gambling blind. If you know a bit about the team, you can judge when these less safe times and places are, and you can respond to any reactions in a way that makes sense from the football fan's POV (mind you, in the particular case of being told to throw your hat away, there's no response that makes particular football sense other than to start running sooner rather than later).

There are some pubs in London and elsewhere that ban team colours on match days. This is not because of anything to do with racism or nationalism. It's because some football supporters are prone to violence or trouble-making, and some supporters who aren't normally prone to those things get carried away when it comes to football. The pub doesn't want a lot of drunk people carrying on like that. The problem is to do with football, not race.

Furthermore, some fans object to people who aren't "proper" fans wearing team gear or otherwise giving the appearance of supporting a team "improperly". You would have thought that folks would get used to ManU being a global brand, but apparently not always. It's rare that a reaction would be anything like as extreme as the one you describe, and I wouldn't expect that to happen to very many people, but it doesn't surprise me in the least that it has happened to someone. I'm certain that there have been worse cases from time to time.

It's not as bad as wearing gang colours in the wrong part of LA, but it's the same type of "mistake". You have the legal and moral right to do it, but it's not advisable because certain people will react to it criminally. That's what happened in your friend's case. Even short of crime, if you pass a group of a rival team's supporters you half-expect to be shouted at, which can be intimidating if you don't know what it's all about. Or even if you do.

I don't want to blame the victim -- your friend was not at fault. The large majority of British people wouldn't support what happened. Football fans might get in your face, but will not normally attack you or take your stuff, or agree with other people doing so. However, the behaviour of the unpleasant minority is well known and yet difficult to wholly prevent.

I don't think this has much to do with nationalism or racism, other than that some people will come to the conclusion that you're not a "proper" supporter of a British club, or that you're fair game to be targeted, faster for an Indian than a white Briton. It would be nice to say that British football supporters are no more racist than the average population, and it might even be true, but I'm pretty sure that those who are racist are more likely to express racism loudly or in a physically intimidating way in the context of football. You hear racist chants at matches, or where fans are gathered before or after matches, and it simply wouldn't occur to the same people to chant those things if they were walking down the street together in a non-football context. It's slowly improving, and this is not a problem specific to the UK alone or football alone, but it's something visitors should be aware of if they're going to dabble in football while they're here.

So in short: the incident may well have been "racially aggravated" (in the legal sense of having been more severe or more likely to occur due to racism on the part of the perpetrator), but the root problem there isn't racism or nationalism. It's people being total jerks about sport.

In fact, based on what you say of the incident, it might not even be football-related. We know your friend's hat was stolen, and we don't know why. Might be football, might be racism, might be both or neither.

However, as far as advice on football, I would say the same thing: regardless of race, if you wear team gear then some people will react to it, and some of those people are nasty. You can encounter nasty people through pure bad luck, but doing so when wearing a hat for a team they particularly like or dislike is especially bad luck.

By the way, I've sort of assumed your friend doesn't know much about ManU. This might be incorrect, but you did say "Manchester United or some other famous football club", and you didn't say, "my friend, who has supported ManU avidly since birth". So I'm claiming fair assumption ;-)

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To address the travel aspect a bit more directly, there are some places in Europe that have a bad reputation and some members of my family faced racist insults on the street based solely on the color of their skin. But it's difficult to assess precisely how safe or dangerous a particular place is and whether an incident is a case of bad luck or evidence of a deeper problem.

I don't think it's fair to just write this off as an individual event or pretend it's the same everywhere but I wouldn't put London high on the list of places in Europe where I would expect to encounter racism. Unfortunately, I don't think there is much you can do to avoid it, it's not like you provoked or deserved the hostility in any way.

While I wouldn't presume to know exactly what happened in this case, it's also true that football hooliganism is a particularly acute problem in the UK so it might have played a role as well.

Finally, statistically speaking the UK is not among the European countries where alcohol consumption is the highest but my strangest encounters with drunk people happened there (e.g. one guy going from table to table in a restaurant, insisting other patrons should take a piece of a dish he did not finish…). English people certainly have a bad reputation in some of the countries they frequently visit (I am thinking about France and the Netherlands). It's completely anecdotal and possibly itself a bit of a prejudice but it's possible that this played a role too.

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even hooligans have some principles, I doubt they aim kids. Still, hooligans in London on trafalger square? –  andra Jun 19 at 9:27
    
@andra I think I put it quite tentatively. Obviously, I don't actually know, how would I? But it would just take one drunk guy… The most important point is that football-related violence is not unheard of in the UK and something people coming from other parts of the world might not be familiar with so it seemed relevant to mention it. –  Relaxed Jun 19 at 9:37
    
@andra hooligans attack everyone regardless of skin colour or age, they only care about the colour and/or logo on your clothes. –  jwenting Jun 19 at 9:59
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I disagree that "football hooliganism is a particularly acute problem in the UK". At the moment, it is a very occasional problem, as shown by the lengthy six-paragraph "2010s" section of the article you link, which only actually talks about five incidents. –  David Richerby Jun 19 at 10:39
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@Relaxed To put this in perspective, the total attendance at English and Welsh football matches in 2012-13 was over 40,000,000. Of those, the 2456 who were arrested constitute 0.006% (i.e., six out of every 100,000). That is not "a lot". It's barely any at all. –  David Richerby Jun 19 at 12:49

Going by your date, this happened in 2007-2008. in 2008, ManU won the Premier League, the Community Shield and the UEFA Champions league. However, they also underperformed in the 2 major English elimination tournaments compared to their other performance. It's possible your friend encountered either a disgruntled ManU supporter, or a disgruntled supporter of an opposing team which was eliminated by ManU. Especially right after a match, such people might not want to be reminded of the performance of their favorite team.

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