Football chants dubbed homophobic by some were widely reported at this summer’s World Cup, but similar chants have been heard in the UK for decades without attracting much attention.
At this summer’s World Cup, chants of “puto” (male prostitute) rung out, mainly from fans of Brazil and Mexico. FIFA have let the chants go unpunished and were criticised for their leniency by LGBT rights groups who called the chants homophobic.
A very similar chant, however, has been common in the Premier League for decades without attracting the same level of media attention.
The “Chelsea rent boys” song is rumored to have originated in the 1980s after newspapers reported that, in a dawn raid by police, a Chelsea hooligan was found in bed with a male prostitute (or “rent boy”).
Rival fans of Chelsea football club then adapted the Chelsea Headhunters (a notorious hooligan firm) threatening song “Chelsea aggro” to “Chelsea rent boys” and the song is still sometimes sung at matches. According to some Chelsea fans, it has even become more popular since the late 1990s.
YouTube contains hundreds of videos of the chant, usually directed at an individual player.
The FA has initiatives to tackle homophobia by fans and players, and says the effort to drive down homophobia is working.
Fans are encouraged by the FA to report incidents when they take place.
Chelsea fans claim the song is sung predominately by teams from Liverpool and Manchester.
Tim Rolls, is the chair of the Chelsea Supporters Trust and said he has reported the chants to stewards at Manchester City’s Etihad stadium and Liverpool’s Anfield stadium.
“At the former,” he said, “they just laughed and, at the latter, I was told that the stewards in our section were policing us, not Liverpool supporters, and that if I persisted in complaining I would be ejected from the ground.”
“I am not aware of stewards taking action against the chants at any ground.”
Chris Taylor is a Manchester United fan who used to sing the song.
“I used to sing it in the late 1990s. It always got an airing at Old Trafford. I didn’t even think about the meaning behind it, I just sang it because everyone else did,” he said. “Then I grew up. It’s a horrible song,”
Other Manchester United fans have defended the chant on forums.
One claims that the chant is directed against Chelsea for two reasons. Firstly, because the nearby Earl’s Court area of London is apparently a “notorious pick-up area for rent boys”. Secondly because, since Roman Abramovich bought and invested heavily in Chelsea, their players are seen as mercenaries who will do anything for money.
Supporters of Everton Football Club, which is based in the city of Liverpool, have also been filmed singing the song.
Jorge Rodrigues, the chair of Everton’s LGBT supporters group “the Rainbow Toffees”, said: “The Chelsea rent boys chant is homophobic. This kind of banter is a problem and needs to be eradicated.”
However, he continued to say that Everton is very welcoming of LGBT fans and the chant comes from extreme elements of the clubs fanbase.
He compared the “rent boy” chants to the “Liverpool slums” song Everton and Liverpool supporters have been subjected to for years.
A spokesperson for the Gay Football Supporters Federation advised supporters to report the chant if they hear it.
A Chelsea FC spokesperson said: “Chelsea Football Club takes all forms of discriminatory behaviour very seriously and believes homophobic chanting to be abhorrent behaviour that has no place in football.
“The Club continues to work very closely with the football authorities and organisations such as Kick It Out to combat discrimination and make the attendance at football matches as enjoyable for everyone as it should be.”
Update: This article originally incorrectly stated that no action had been taken by the FA to deal with fans using the ‘Chelsea rent boy’ chant. The FA is currently looking into the question of what is being done specifically in the case of the chant.