On Monday night, BBC Three presented a documentary where the Head of the Player’s Union and former footballer, Clark Carlisle, asked the question on everyones lips at the minute; ‘Is Football Racist?’
…and watching as the chairman of an organisation, which is responsible for the safety and fair treatment of players, unearthed disturbing facts about the reality of the not- so beautfiul game; I was inspired to write this piece in the hope that some of my readers will find it similarly eye- opening.
Sadly, I found that the longer the programme went on, the more rhetorical the question in the title became. This old enemy in football has undoubtedly reered its ugly head this season and with the ‘War on Twitter’ still raging, fuel has been added to the fire.
At the top of the programme, Clark Carlisle, a black man, admitted to never having experienced any racism in the game, despite enjoying a career in professional football for over twenty years. However, as he explored the issue and spoke to both former and current players such as John Barnes and Jermaine Jenas, it became increasingly apparent to him that he was one of a fortune few.
As Carlisle dug deeper he also addressed some of the forms of racism which perhaps doesnt receive as much media attention, such as anti- semitism in football and the reasons behind the lack of professional Asian players throughout the Football League.
Carlisle also attempted to exploit his position in order to get the opinions of some of the most famous black players in the Premier League today; yet to his amazement and mine, almost all were reluctant to come forward (given the upcoming trial of John Terry) and one unnamed England international even suggested that he believed, speaking his mind may actually HARM his chances of making the Euro 2012 squad.
Last week, John Terry – Chelsea captain and England international – was acquitted of all charges regarding allegations that he had racially abused QPR defender Anton Ferdinand… despite damning video evidence that he had called Ferdinand a “black c***” during a heated exchange between the two on the pitch. The trial followed a season in which Liverpool striker Luiz Suarez was banned for 8 matches over a similar incident involving Man Utd’s Patrice Evra (a case which contained far LESS clear- cut evidence).
It has become crystal clear over the course of the season that both managers and clubs (their board members in particular) are more concerned with preserving and protecting their assets (their players) than addressing the issue of racism. This was made evident when both Terry and Suarez were unequivocally supported by their managers and we all remember the infamous ‘Suarez support’ t- shirts which Liverpool wore so proudly following his ban.
It sends a clear message to the fans that they should support their star players regardless of their actions, and networking sites such as Twitter provide a platform for them to abuse the real victims in these situations, with the safety and anonimity that a computer screen can provide.
Recently, Arsenals own Emmanuel Frimpong landed himself in hot water by responding to a provocative Spurs fan and calling him a “Scum Y**”. Spurs have adopted this word, which is a derogatory term for a Jewish person, despite the fact that a majority of their fans are not Jewish. Comedian David Baddiel was also interviewed by Carlisle and explained how he has launched his ‘Y- word’ campaign in order to stop it, but admitted that the club itself, is either unwilling or rather unprepared to help – Baddiel argued that you would never find a club or fanbase that went around calling themselves the “N***** Army”, and he’s absolutely right.
I am also confident that like me, you have questioned why there seem to be NO asian footballers (by which I refer to being of Pakistani or Bangladeshi descent) in top flight football. The documentary showed in plain sight that there is undoubtedly an untapped pool of talented players who are being constantly overlooked by professional clubs for no apparent reason.
It seems that the inaction of those at the top combined with the ever- growing number of people on social networking sites, has resulted in a raging fire which threatens to burn out of all control. All those of you with a twitter account have to do, is glance over some of the messages Ex- Liverpool star Stan Collymore received during the Suarez affair, to see the level of racism still at large today.
Of course it may seem as though the English game has worked tirelessly, and succeeded to an extent, to combat the level of racism in our game. It is also true that the situation was far worse in the 70’s and is still at large in countries such as Ukraine and Poland; but as John Barnes readily admits; just because it is not as obvious, that doesn’t mean it isn’t still there.
It seems that even on our own shores, although we no longer see full-scale pitch invasions and monkey chanting from the stands, the racists have simply welcomed in the ‘digital age’ and found a new and ‘safer’ way in which to vent their misguided and sickening hatred towards those of a different race, colour or background.
I feel it should be argued further that perhaps only the most extreme racists would throw a banana at a black player or actually shout racially abusive chants directly to players faces. From behind a computer screen you simply do not need to have the ‘balls’. Twitter has undoubtedly allowed for a new breed of racists to join in; to TYPE the slurs and words that these disgusting individuals would never dare say out loud.
Nevertheless, Twitter cannot be ‘blamed’. If anything you could say it has shone a light on the racists who still hide in the shadows of our society and it is well documented that people are beginning to be caught and punished for such tweets.
Ultimately, the responsibility quite rightly rests with the governing bodies who simply aren’t doing enough to make the issue of racism a priority, and are HAPPY to let it linger in the game, simply because it’s bad for business. Despite all the work that the famous ‘Kick it Out’ campaign has done in this country, Jermaine Jenas, as someone who has established charities and understands how much money they require, was shell-shocked to hear Carlisle explain to him how much the FA supply. This is an organisation which generates billions of pounds a year and the campaign is given a budget of merely £500,000.
Sepp Blatter, President of FIFA, insits that it is simply ‘not a problem on the football pitch’. Players such as Terry are supposed to be role models for everyone who watches the English game and so I’m afraid Mr. Blatter, it was never going to stay on the pitch for very long.