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A pleasant note on soccer fans

I posted on Europe's problem with racism in sport a few days ago. Here's evidence why you don't take such reports as evidence that all fans of European football are mugs, thugs, and racists. In the midst of a 5-1 drubbing in yesterday's F.A. Cup quarterfinal match against Arsenal, Portsmouth fans were an illustration of true class, showing both their own spirit and their appreciation for the skill on display by Arsenal:

'Can we play you every week?' inquired the Portsmouth fans cheerfully at 5-0 down. Now either that is inspired irony, or the fantastically loyal Pompey fans had it in them to appreciate that with Arsenal in town they were able to watch football from another planet.

Something extraordinary happened here in the the 71st minute. Arsène Wenger made a triple substitution: off came the imperious Patrick Vieira, the irrepressible Thierry Henry, the impish Freddie Ljungberg and they were given a standing ovation by the Fratton Park faithful.

'Their fans were fantastic, even at 5-0 down, and with fans like that Portsmouth don't deserve to go down,' said Henry, warming to this unexpected love-in. Wenger said he had never seen anything like it.

I listened to the match on the BBC's internet broadcast. After Arsenal put the game away I paid less attention, and assumed the chants I heard in the background were coming from Arsenal supporters. But on closer inspection, it was the Portsmouth fans, loud and proud, singing non-stop for the last 25 minutes of the match. That's spirit for you, and Portsmouth's players responded, continuing to play hard and scoring in the 90th minute.