When we come to look back on the season that was 2011/12, the history books will show it was the year when Manchester City broke their duck as Premier League champions, Chelsea came to the end of their search for Roman’s Champions League Holy Grail and Roy Hodgson became the next man to carry the poisoned chalice that is the England manager’s job. But just beneath those statistical headline-makers, the undercurrent of racism has also weaved it’s way into the fabric of football’s record books thanks to John Terry, Luis Suarez and their army of apologists.
And now, with evidence brought forward by the BBC’s Panorama programme, the subject of racism has reared it’s ugly head once again. Revealing shocking footage of some Asian fans being targeted and set upon inside the Metalist Stadium in Ukraine’s second city, Kharkiv, presenter Chris Rogers and his team proved to us that the families of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Theo Walcott are fully justified in not taking the risk to travel to watch England play in Euro 2012. The brutal and wholly unprovoked beatings dished out to the victims inside the stadium were enough to make any fan think twice about traveling to the Ukraine, whatever colour or shade their skin might be. It’s almost inconceivable that even in this day and age, mothers and fathers could be putting their well being and lives at risk just by going to see their sons play in an England shirt. A moment that should fill them with parental pride is instead turned into a fear filled experience that removes all enjoyment from the occasion. Of course, UEFA will argue that security in and around the stadia will be stringent during the tournament but what happens to those visiting fans when they leave those safe zones? Who will protect the fans from the threat of the racists and hooligans then? On the evidence of Monday night’s documentary, it won’t be the police, that’s for sure.
As part of the documentary, Sol Campbell agreed to be questioned for his thoughts, and his belief that a country which is so obviously deficient in tackling a problem that is endemic of their society should not be gifted the opportunity to host such a prestigious tournament as the Euro’s is bang on the button. Promotion of the game in places untouched by FIFA’s hand is all well and good how can you hold such an event in a country where tourists fear for their safety? The answer is, of course, that you can’t but looking at racism in football introspectively, you have to ask if we are entirely guiltless ourselves.
A country which is so obviously deficient in tackling a problem that is endemic of their society should not be gifted the opportunity to host such a prestigious tournament
If we go by that same token, how can we ourselves expect to be holier than thou in the judgement of others when our very own captain (at the time of the incident) is facing a charge of racial abuse? The Terry and Suarez incidents apart, you only have to take a look at the Twitter feed of people like Stan Collymore to see that although we have driven the racists from our grounds, our island still houses the same kind of people who are stood on the terraces in Kharkiv. Because of this, if we’re were ever successful with a bid to host a major football tournament, would other nations be within their rights to question our nation’s attitude towards anyone who isn’t of stereotypical english rosiness?
We have come a long way in the battle against racism during the last thirty years, sadly though, not far enough in my opinion. I wouldn’t exactly tag myself with the moniker of being “old school” but I’m still old enough to have caught the tail end of the dark days of the not too distant past, where I can recall a coach I was playing under summoning one player, who was black, to take his “jungle drum” music off because he didn’t like the CD he was playing on the bus. Even though it was Lionel Ritchie’s “Back To Front” album that was playing, as middle of the road as you’re going to get, his ethnicity was enough to draw a racist comment from him. It was the same coach who would regularly pass the bananas out to the black players with a “humourous” remark that “you lot like them, don’t you?”. It was teeth-grindingly uncomfortable to hear him say it but at the same time his comments were more or less accepted and left unchecked. There was also another time I witnessed a manager give instructions to his defenders to make sure “that black b*****d doesn’t get another touch of the ball”, whilst two African born players sat within touching distance of him. It was such a shocking remark that we all wandered out on the pitch for the second half in sheer bewilderment as if doubting whether we’d actually misheard him or not. We hadn’t.
Perhaps if I’d been a little older I’d have said something to them in defence of my teammates but as a kid you just do anything not to rock the boat. You weren’t expected to talk back to the coaches or disagree with them. It’s easy to say what I should’ve done at the time and what I would do if something similar were to happen again now but you’re just too scared to go against the grain at that young age.
If anything, this season has shown racism hasn’t been totally eradicated as it should have been years ago.
If anything, this season has shown racism hasn’t been totally eradicated as it should have been years ago. There are many grey areas in football but we cannot allow this to be one of them. The only way to truly eradicate racism is to take a zero tolerance stance on the subject and stamp it out once and for all. UEFA’s paltry fines to those nations who still have racist behaviour inside their stadiums is hardly a deterrent but we shouldn’t have to wait for the authorities to act. The image of footballers has been damaged immeasurably over the past decade and this is an area where we can be pro-active and positively effect society. Footballers, more than most other celebrity vocations, are continually held up as the role models who influence our youngsters the most and it’s about time we took steps to live up to that status. I don’t necessarily agree with the role model tag as we aren’t angelic paragons of virtue and our lives are as human and error strewn as anyone else’s, but in cases such as racism we can show the way. We didn’t ask to be put up on a pedestal but seeing as we are, we should put it to good use.
In a time when immigration, integration and a renewed sense of nationalism are all political headliners, football’s multi-national community should be immune to any tensions that may be prevalent outside of our beautiful game. Organisations such as “Show Racism The Red Card” and the “Kick It Out” campaign are at the forefront of what’s positive in the fight against bigotry and prejudice and if there was ever a chance for football to lead the way in bringing people together, show the world that these outdated views are no longer acceptable and help eradicate racism from society once and for all, now is the time to take it.
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