Champions League Football and racist graffiti at The College Arms in Walthamstow

Martin Belam by Martin Belam, 25 March 2004

I had a fantastic time last night watching the first leg of the all English Champions League Quarter Final between Chelsea and Arsenal, at the College Arms pub in Walthamstow on Forest Road.

The pub was packed, and was a brilliant example of how football can bring people together. It was the most diverse crowd I have ever seen in a Walthamstow pub. There were a Japanese couple, two generations of Afro-Caribbeans, and some ladies from Africa. There were some Eastern Europeans. There were some of our new local generation of British Asian teenagers, all wearing hip-hop gear and talking like they were MCing at some Jamaican toasting contest, whilst displaying a superior level of knowledge of the game than the regulars at the bar. There was an old white couple drinking white wine. There was one particular African guy wearing an Arsenal shirt who celebrated so wildly when Arsenal scored that Chelsea fans were distracted from their disappointment and were just laughing at his over-exuberance.

It was a great atmosphere for a pub which is generally populated by a few white builders, two old geezers, the bar staff and me.

There were two things that slightly spoiled it for me though.

One is the way that UEFA have devalued their premier competition. 26 years ago when there was last an all English tie fighting for Europe's top trophy, Nottingham Forest were reigning Champions of England, and Liverpool were reigning Champions of Europe. This time round neither Arsenal or Chelsea were Champions of anything.

The second was that especially considering the multi-cultural crowd in the pub that night, it is astonishing that the toilets in The College Arms are still full of racist graffiti. And that even though the pub has changed hands three times in recent years, none of the landlords or landladies have done anything about it. In fact, in the fifteen-or-so years I have been visiting the pub it seems the only person who has ever attempted to remove the NF logos or the sectarian and racist taunts has been me, by trying to scratch them out with the edges of coins.

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I'm very happy to add that the current landlord/ladies of the pub have completely refitted it, and since September 2005 there has no longer been any racist graffiti in the College Arms.
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