Racism In Football: Time To Get The House In Order

Article by Phil Gregory: Editor, Black Presence in Britain Website

I’m in my late 30’s now and I remember the dark days of racism in English football.   When I used to play in the youth leagues, it would be common to hear some father of an opposing player shout “get the nigger”, or some other lovely vernacular, designed to put me off my game.

Of course it annoyed me, but it never put me off my game.  I just sucked it up which was what you did in the early eighties.  You sucked it up and carried on.  I’d like to think though that we might have moved on a bit since then.

However, recent events over the last year have shown that, in fact whilst we may have taken great strides in combating racism on a superficial level racism is still a scourge that is hiding right under the surface of football.

What has been done to combat racism in football?

Firstly, I’d like to focus on some of the positives. What has been done, a reasonable amount. Firstly Clubs have been made aware that black players can actually play, just as well as any other race. When I was playing in the 1980’s you would often hear statements from managers bemoaning the “stamina” or “commitment” of black players.

Black Players were few and far between in the major leagues. Ones that spring to mind are Remi Moses, Lawrie Cunningham,  Viv AndersonCyrille Regis, John Barnes, Luther Blisset, Paul Mcgrath and Mark Chamberlain. These guys were the top black player in England. But they were very few and far between.

Today however, over 25% of all the players in the top league are black. What’s more they are not just black Britons, they come from the Caribbean, Africa, Europe and south America. So that’s good. Black players have featured in the hearts of the majority of football fans for the last 20 years or more. We have seen such talents as Andy Cole and Dwight Yorke, Faustino Asprilla, Patrick Vierra, Sol Campbell, Stan Collymore and Thierry Henri to mention just a few of the players who set the 90’s alight.

When black footballers retire

Black players both current and former have found their way into punditry and and on to television, so not just vanishing forever, as though they never existed but continuing to have an influence on young people.

Some former players have found themselves as managers.  Paul Ince, Chris Hughton, Terry Connor, Ruud Gullitt, have all managed at the top level in England. However today only Chris Hughton and Chris Powel remains. Paul Ince, and John Barnes have both spoken about the difficulties of being a black manager in the English football League. Ladies football saw Hope Power appointed as the England Manager, a post she has held for thirteen years. She has performed reasonably well, despite calls for her to go when England failed to beat Germany in the final of Euro 2009 .

Black Managers are a rarity in the Football League
Black Managers are a rarity in the Football League (image:http://fourfourtwo.com/)

Anti Racist Football organisations

Anti Racist organisations such as kick It Out came into football in the 90’s they actually got the issue into the public consciousness. they made the racial abuse from fans and from other players largely unacceptable. With foootball clubs giving the campaign visibility for the first time. smaller groups like FURD (football unites Racism Divides), have sprung up to provided local coverage.

All this is good.  I honestly think that there has been a massive change in the way football operates. I see more and more black and Asian fans at matches, However, the work isn’t over yet. The influx of minority players and fans is only reflected in the top leagues. Look in the lower divisions and it’s not the same. Why is this?  Could it be that the change is superficial, done to appease the do-gooders, to make football more globally appealing to the masses. After all black money for merchandise is as good as white money right?

What hasn’t been done to combat racism in Football?

It’s clear that theres plenty still to be done though.  We had two high profile cases of on the pitch racism last year with the Luis Suarez / Patrice Evra and the Anton Ferdinand / John Terry Cases.  the National team seems to keep running into racism without anything of note being done.  Firstly, Rio Ferdinand became a victim of the fallout between team-mate John Terry and his brother, Anton.  Terry was selected to play for England whilst the Race related trial was going on, Ferdinand was left at home.  That can’t be right can it?

Then more recently, we saw the England Under 21 players being subjected to a barrage of “monkey chants” from Serbian football fans.  Fifa, lamely charged both teams with bad conduct instead of Fully condemning Serbia. A decision on the matter is imminent, but it’s depressing that virtually nobody in football expects a Serbian ban, except perhaps the Serbians.

with all these race related issues currently flying around in football. It should come as little surprise that black players are becoming jaded with the whole situation.   Many players feel that the F.A and “kick it out” are simply not doing enough to combat racism on the football pitch.
there has been talk of a breakaway Black Players Association being formed. The idea has received luke-warm reactions in the media.  One has to ask one’s self what benefit such a group would actually bring to football. Would it better represent the interests of black players, or create a them and us situation with even greater disparities?  With all this going on in England, one of the more racially tolerant countries in Europe, one wonders what can be done to calm the situation?

Steps to take to put Football’s house in order

  • Equal attention applied to the lower divisions to ensure that black players get fair treatment and that black and Asian fans feel welcome at football grounds.
  • The F.A to work more closely with groups such as kick it out. All penalties for “Proven” racism need to be standardised to a zero tolerance penalty.
  • Equal opportunities for Black managers. Similar Scheme to the Rooney Rule.
  • More pressure applied by the F.A to Fifa to combat racism at an International level.
Whatever is actually done, it is clearly time to take some action.  Good work has been done since the 70’s and 80’s we do have a better, more integrated league.  I think one of the best in the world, we are a beacon of Multi-racial, multi ethnic football, but things still aren’t fully equal yet.  This country’s black footballing pioneers such as Arthur Wharton and Walter Tull would have expected better by now. Can we deliver?

An Article by Phil Gregory: Editor, Black Presence in Britain Website

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