A flag bearer waves a Chelsea FC flag with the LGBT+ Progress flag design. (Clive Rose/Getty Images)
Britain’s Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has said the “Chelsea rent boy” chant is a homophobic hate crime and not “harmless banter”.
For decades, fans of teams playing against football titan Chelsea FC have lobbed the cruel chant from the stands, from the Premier League to the FA Cup.
As recently as Saturday (8 January), Crystal Palace midfielder Conor Gallagher and Norwich’s Bill Gilmour were targeted with the cry.
But the CPS, the agency responsible for criminal prosecutions in England and Wales, confirmed to The Mirror that the discriminatory chant is a “disease” and amounts to a hate crime, making those who yell it liable for prosecution.
“Hate crime has no place within society, let alone sport,” CPS director of public prosecutions Max Hill told The Mirror.
“Recently, we have seen an increase of reports in racist and homophobic abuse at football matches and this is a disease we are determined to play our part in cutting out.”
Describing how the England team roared through the 2020 Euros, the celebration was quickly “overshadowed by a troubling spike in online racism directed towards a number of young Black players”.
“This weekend’s FA Cup third round has also been tarnished,” he added, “by reports of racist and homophobic abuse by so-called fans at three matches.
“This is vile and disgusting behaviour and the CPS stands with the majority of the public who want to see this stamped out.”
While some have shrugged it off as “harmless banter”, Hill stressed that such heckling is “unacceptable and could be subject to prosecution if there is sufficient evidence after a police investigation”.
“As a mark of how seriously we take this offending, we will always ask for harsher sentences as it amounts to a hate crime,” he said.
The CPS defines a hate crime as when an offender has “demonstrated hostility [or] been motivated by hostility based on race, religion, disability, sexual orientation or transgender identity”.
LGBT+ footie fans praise CPS for showing ‘Chelsea rent boy’ chant is ‘not welcome in football’
The “rent boy” jeer is thought to have originated from Earls Court in the now well-heeled borough of Chelsea once being a haunt for male sex workers in the 1960s and 1970s, owing to the large number of queer-friendly bars.
It’s also considered to be a jab against Roman Abramovich, a Russian billionaire who bought the Chelsea football club. Some opposition fans see Chelsea supporters and players as mercenaries willing to do anything for money.
Coming off the back of promises by the Football Association to weed out the chant, activists worked together with the sport’s English governing body to make a case to the CPS and the United Kingdom Football Policing Unit, which is tasked with squashing football disorder.
Tracy Brown, co-chair of Chelsea Pride, together with Spurs’ LGBT+ fan group Proud Lilywhites cobbled together countless victim impact statements from spectators “negatively impacted” by the homophobic sneer.
For 30 years, Brown has watched Chelsea play at Stamford Bridge, the stadium in Fulham. She never knew what the chant meant growing up.
But now she does. “When it comes down to it, we all know the LGBT+ community has felt with a heavy-heart that [the chant] is homophobic in nature,” she told PinkNews.
“I had always hoped we would get to this point,” she added of CPS’ decision. “It’s been a long battle.
“While we know this is only the beginning of the journey, it is a very important step in communicating that the derogatory term ‘rent boy’ is not welcome in football.
“We want to see homophobia, biphobia and transphobia kicked out of football.
“We still have a long way to go to make football a game for everyone, but together as a community, we can achieve amazing things.”