Football Fans: Under Their Skin (2020)

Review – Robbie Lyle’s ‘Football Fans: Under Their Skin’ (2020)

Presented by Robbie Lyle, Football Fans: Under Their Skin gathers together leaders of supporters groups and prominent fans who are all men of color. Some share their childhood experiences in the stands as victims of racism. It is painful to see how those experiences affected them and their parents. And decades on, not only does racism continue in the stadium, but it now thrives online.

Robbie Lyle launched Fan TV

Robbie’s Arsenal Fan TV youtube channel, now known as AFTV, has 1.5 million subscribers, and Robbie has become a celebrity in his own right. In 2012, he pioneered the now widespread media genre of Fan TV, where fans voice their opinions about their football club. Technology and youtube made it possible for everyman to produce his or her own media outlet for the enjoyment of fellow fans, and even make a little money from the effort. It was a chance to express the things you never witness on official channels, and in many cases, Fan TV is a chance to be strident and be heard.

The fact that AFTV has so much viewership shows this was a niche to be filled. The film is also a little bit of a testament to Robbie’s entrepreneurial and showbiz skill, as he shows how they produce their content and how they started.

The other fans

Showing how various clubs have supporters of color, interviews include:

  • Robbie Lyle explains how his father was too afraid to take him to an Arsenal game.
  • Broadcaster Rene Carayol describes his experience as a 10 year old, hearing the racist chants and seeing his father literally showered in spit at a Chelsea game. They left at half time and never went back to a stadium.
  • Dipak Gohil was accosted as a teen inside Leicester’s stadium by a fellow fan but was protected by a stranger from the Newcastle side.
  • Cass Pennant of West Ham fame speaks a little about racist incidents by fans that intrude onto the pitch. I thought it too bad that he didn’t talk about being black and heading a Firm in the 1970s. I guess I will have to read his memoir. His biopic, Cass, gives a version of his life.
  • Pete Bassi shows how @PunjabiWolvesSG supports Wolverhampton.

The film also covers other recent racist incidents outside of the pitch, and particularly online.

About racism

While I have reviewed quite a few films about racism in soccer, the subject has always been covered as racism against the players on the pitch. This is the first film where I heard of how racist hate was directed against fellow fans in and around the stadium. I had always noticed that, in British films 30-60 years ago, the fans were always White. But I assumed it was a matter of ticket prices or lack of interest. For some naive reason, it never occurred to me that there were plenty of fans of color, but they felt it was unsafe for them to go to the stadium. This film makes that very clear.

While football is the context of this documentary, racism has the same effect wherever it appears. After Robbie Lyle’s film, I watched the 2016 documentary I Am Not Your Negro. If you are interested in learning more about racism in the USA, watch that truly powerful film. It supplements the words of James Baldwin with vignettes that exemplify how Hollywood has historically both under-represented and misrepresented people of color. With its portrayal of Whites as heroes and the few minorities as villains or inferiors, the film industry further cemented racist stereotypes.

I was unfamiliar with James Baldwin, but it is eery and also shameful that the American culture he describes in the 1960s is not much different today. As the documentary closes, he points out that he is a man and not a ni**er. The N-word is a creation of racist people, and the question to ask is why those people had to have a ni**er in the first place. White people need to understand why they invented him. The future of this country depends on it.

In Conclusion

It is extraordinary, brave, and admirable that Robbie Lyle is using his platform to stop racism in football. Because so often, when you speak out, it makes you a bigger target. So, watch this film if you wish to support his effort, and thank him and the other participants for speaking out. Racism will only stop when we fans put a stop to it everywhere it appears.

February is Black History Month in the USA. If you want to learn something worthwhile from movies, Football Fans: Under Their Skin and I Am Not Your Negro are a good place to start.

8 Soccer Movie Mom Rating = 8