Last updated : 12 January 2003 By Editor

From The NOTW:

The woman with the claret-dyed hair held gamely on to her banner and her principles.

"West Ham fans united against racism," she shouted, as the mob around her grew more ominously brutish and scowling. The abuse, sporadic at first, was now raining down on her.

She stood her ground. She stood face-to-face and toe-to-toe with belligerent shaven-haired bullies twice her size. She would have needed to wipe the spittle from her face as they spat their empty justifications, their spurious defences of West Ham's newly-acquired saviour.

The hordes began to chant Lee Bowyer's name. Proudly at first, then with more anger and venom, as if his was a standard to rally around. Suddenly, a second female voice cut through the clamour by the Upton Park gates.

"Oh, Lee Bowyer,

He's such a lovely bloke,

He don't like onion bhajis,

And curry makes him choke."

The singer was a throwback. A squinting skinhead with her crop boxed in by a long fringe and rat-tails. She looked like one of the figures that used to congregate around football in this part of east London 20 years ago. And now they have reason to return.

The West Ham fans united against racism may have been unloved and outnumbered, they might have been swimming against a tide of misplaced loyalty to whoever pulls on a West Ham shirt, but they succeeded in one aspect.

They exposed the lie that signing Bowyer does not, in its way, bring out the worst elements in people in a part of the capital that already stands on a tinderbox foundation.

The great fear is that Bowyer now becomes a cause to be exploited by extremists on both sides. Race riots in Burnley and Oldham have been directly linked to events around football.