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Anti-gay chant heard at Chelsea FA Cup tie labelled ‘inappropriate’ by Preston

The soccer chant could be heard on BBC TV coverage. Kick It Out describe it as “homophobic and discriminatory” while Chelsea FC have also condemned the language used.

Chelsea v Preston North End - Emirates FA Cup Third Round
Preston North End players show their dejection after conceding a goal during their 4-0 FA Cup third-round defeat at Chelsea on Saturday.
Photo by Andrew Kearns - CameraSport via Getty Images

A chant heard during Chelsea’s FA Cup home tie on Saturday that has previously been classified as discriminatory by the Football Association has been described as “inappropriate” by the visiting club.

Preston North End issued a statement to Outsports on Monday evening saying they are “aware of reports of inappropriate chanting by a minority of away supporters” during the match at Stamford Bridge.

Several viewers watching live on BBC TV commented on social media about the “Chelsea Rent Boy” chant when it was heard shortly before halftime, as did journalists covering the game in the stadium.

The chant can still be heard on the audio track from the game that is unchanged on the as-live coverage available on the BBC’s on-demand iPlayer service.

The match was goalless until the 58th minute when Chelsea took the lead, and the home side went on to win 4-0.

Chelsea’s LGBTQ+ supporters group Chelsea Pride posted to its X account mid-game to say it was “very disappointing to hear ‘that chant’ from the Preston fans” and offered a reminder that anyone responsible for singing the chant could be prosecuted by law.

The UK’s Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has assessed the chant as homophobic since 2022, the same year that prosecutions for its use began. Extensive campaigning by Chelsea Pride chair Tracy Brown, working with fellow LGBTQ supporters groups and other football stakeholders, brought about the change.

The chant has historically been directed as an insult or slur towards Chelsea fans and players, and anyone else with an affiliation to the club, such as players out on loan or former players.

When specifically asked to comment on the reports of discriminatory chanting at the FA Cup tie, a Preston North End spokesperson responded: “We are aware of reports of inappropriate chanting by a minority of away supporters at Stamford Bridge on 6th January 2024.

“We would like to make it clear that inappropriate chanting will not be tolerated, and any supporters who are found guilty of doing so may face disciplinary action.

“If any specific incidents are brought to our attention, we will always thoroughly investigate and take action against any supporter who is identified as having committed an offense.”

Kick It Out, which is English football’s anti-discrimination reporting organization and charity, also issued a statement about the incident to Outsports.

“Kick It Out are aware of homophobic chanting from Preston North End supporters during the club’s FA Cup fixture with Chelsea on Saturday.

“The law is unequivocal. The ‘rent boy’ chant is discriminatory and homophobic, and it should be labelled that way. It is also a hate crime, and can lead to prosecution.

“We have forwarded the reports received regarding this incident to The FA, and expect to see appropriate action taken against those responsible.”

Chelsea v Preston North End - Emirates FA Cup Third Round
The FA Cup encounter was Preston North End’s first fixture against Chelsea for 14 years.
Photo by Andrew Kearns - CameraSport via Getty Images

There have been several examples of fans being pursued through the courts in the last 18 months following the change in how the chant is assessed by the CPS.

After several incidents at the start of last year, the Football Association sent a letter to all clubs warning them that the governing body “now considers this specific chant to amount to a breach of FA Rules” and that supporters who sing it could land their own clubs in disciplinary hot water.

Chelsea welcomed those interventions, saying in a statement in January 2023: “The ‘Rent Boy’ chant is intolerable and has no place in football or anywhere else.”

In June 2023, Wolves were fined £100,000 by the FA after their fans were found to have participated in mass homophobic chanting in a game against Chelsea towards the end of the previous season.

Recently, Wolves and Luton Town — who have also been fined a six-figure fee in recent weeks after their fans sang the chant in a Premier League match — have issued specific instructions to their supporters in advance of playing Chelsea, describing the chant as “homophobic” and including warnings about hate crime.

The FA put out its own general reminder to fans about behavior just over a fortnight ago, saying: “Tough measures and sanctions are in place across all English football leagues to tackle dangerous and illegal behaviours within football grounds, such as discriminatory behaviour, entering the pitch, using pyros and throwing objects.

“The very small number of individuals who engage in these acts are reminded that identification could lead to automatic club bans and police action.”

Preston did include a mention in its guidance to fans pre-game that stadium bans and prosecutions were potential consequences of “discriminatory behavior” and included ‘homophobic’ when listing various forms of discriminatory chanting, although the ‘Chelsea rent boy’ chant itself was not mentioned.

Before Saturday, North End had not faced Chelsea in any competition since an FA Cup tie in 2010. The Championship club took around 6,000 fans to Stamford Bridge.

Chelsea v Preston North End - Emirates FA Cup Third Round
Preston North End supporters pictured during the FA Cup third-round tie at Chelsea on Saturday.
Photo by Andrew Kearns - CameraSport via Getty Images

While the pre-match guidance was carried on Preston’s website three days before their trip to west London, there appeared however to be no mention on the website or the club’s social media channels post-game of either the anti-gay chant incident or the response about it which was sent to Outsports.

The response was carried as a club statement on the website of the local newspaper, the Lancashire Post, soon after on Monday evening.

Preston manager Ryan Lowe had praised the traveling North End fans after the game, saying: “The fans should be proud of what they did, and we’re proud of what they did because they rallied us on and outsang the Chelsea supporters.”

Meanwhile, in a post on his X account on Monday evening, the Preston Police football officer for Preston North End, PC Paul Elliott, listed “homophobic chants @ Chelsea” as an item on his list of tasks to deal with in the coming week.

In a statement sent to Outsports late Tuesday, a Chelsea FC spokesperson said: “Chelsea Football Club finds all forms of discriminatory behaviour totally unacceptable and we condemn the language used by some individuals at Stamford Bridge on Saturday in our FA Cup tie.

“Alongside our No to Hate campaign, we are proud supporters of all inclusion programmes and Saturday acts as a reminder that we must continue to do more to make football a game for everyone.

“Supporters are reminded they can report hate, whether experienced in the stadium or online, directly to us. Click here for more information and to report abuse.”

The Football Association was also contacted for comment by Outsports.