Premier League club Luton Town is making a concerted effort to prevent homophobic chanting from overshadowing their clash against Chelsea on Saturday.
This weekend, the Hatters will host the London giants in a league fixture for the first time since 1991, and there are concerns that some supporters will attempt to sing a chant on which authorities have been clamping down in recent months.
Luton has issued a message to fans via its official website ahead of the Chelsea match at their 11,500-capacity Kenilworth Road stadium, warning of potentially serious consequences.
“You might, unintentionally, be singing something that could lead to a heavy Club fine, a potential ban from Kenilworth Road or even facing criminal charges,” read the message.
Back at the Kenny on Saturday. pic.twitter.com/r1b6lqsGsO— Luton Town FC (@LutonTown) December 28, 2023
Luton was relegated from the English top division at the end of the 1991-92 season, at a time when homophobia and other forms of discrimination were much more prominent in the game.
The club returned to the elite level after winning promotion through the playoffs last season. But in their first game back, at Brighton in August, some supporters were found to have targeted an opposition player, who previously played for Chelsea, with the chant.
A change in guidance from the Crown Prosecution Service means the chant is now assessed as being discriminatory and is subject to a Football Association disciplinary process as well as potential punishment for individuals through the courts.
Luton’s message to fans continued:
“We don’t need to remind supporters that our opening Premier League match of the season at Brighton led to the Club being fined £120,000 by the FA following a charge of abusive, offensive, homophobic and discriminatory chanting for singing ‘Chelsea Rent Boy’ and were asked to identify individuals guilty of chanting songs that were deemed offensive.
“It’s not just our finances that are affected but also the Club’s reputation. As an inclusive, family-oriented Club, we pride ourselves for the work we have done with the local community and supporters’ groups in recent seasons.
“This also includes helping form the Rainbow Hatters, the supporters’ group for members of the LGBTQ+ community, who meet regularly to share their experiences of watching the Hatters.”
Luton also published a recorded video message from manager Rob Edwards on its social media channels, directly addressing fans and asking them to think before they sing.
A message from Rob to all supporters attending tomorrow's game.— Luton Town FC (@LutonTown) December 29, 2023
Wolves and Leeds United have also received six-figure fines from the FA in recent months as a result of homophobic chanting, while investigations continue following reports of abuse at the Nottingham Forest vs Brighton game in the Premier League in late November.
Luton’s pre-emptive message to fans shows a much more targeted approach to tackling an issue that was overlooked for many years.
A spate of incidents at the start of 2023 led to the FA sending a letter to all clubs advising them of the updated guidance. In December, the governing body issued a fresh warning in advance of the fixtures over the busy holiday period.
As we go into the busy festive period of football matches when, traditionally, many families and friends will come together to enjoy the game, The FA, Premier League and EFL are calling on supporters to act responsibly when attending fixtures.https://t.co/TU8rzHAUL2— The FA (@FA) December 22, 2023
The punishments handed down to Wolves, Leeds and Luton also featured action plans which include steps designed to prevent a repeat of those previous incidents.
Luton is notably conscious of the need to show responsibility.
“With the eyes of the world now upon us, and after the charges brought against us so far this season, we have never been under more scrutiny from the footballing and safety authorities, so we are politely asking you to think before you sing.”