Liverpool, Manchester United, Chelsea & QPR: Why The Media Must Stop Blowing Stories Of Racism Out Of Proportion
It’s not very often that I find myself agreeing with Harry Redknapp. In fact, unless the jowl-faced rogue has ever suffered a serious crisis of self it’s doubtful I’ve ever previously agreed with a single word jabbered from his mouth or thought inside his head.
That was until Saturday evening, when I reluctantly nodded along to his assertion on Match of the Day that the media are blowing the racist incidents that are supposedly sullying our game out of all proportion.
Where I distance myself from ‘Arry’s viewpoint was in his extended claim that everything is peaches and cream in domestic football; that racism has been all-but eradicated in comparison to the ‘dog’s abuse’ Redknapp’s team-mate Clyde Best endured in the 1960s.
Society – and by osmosis football – has progressed immeasurably since those depressing days of ignorance but to believe that we are now free of racism on our terraces or on our pitches is a grand delusion. Indeed if that were so there’d be no requirement for a Kick It Out campaign to begin with and the recent disgusting abuse dished out to Marvin Sordell at the New Den, not to mention our national captain being banned for calling a fellow professional a ‘black c***’ tends to discredit such utopian optimism.
Here I agree with another of my personal nemeses Mark Hughes who said at the weekend that we will never be truly free of bigotry, or at least we’ll all be a lot greyer and older when that day finally arrives.
Unfortunately there will always be an ill-educated moron, raised by an ill-educated moron. There will always be a minority who, amongst the tribal desire to hurt in a tribal environment, resort to using bigotry as a weapon.
So the fight must continue and it is a fight that we – the adjusted and the good – are winning incrementally.
However, the unrelenting controversies that have been splashed across the back pages for the past twelve months are beginning to take on the analogy of a nut being smashed by a sledgehammer. Indeed the latest development that John Terry will adorn an anti-racism armband in Europe this week takes a serious issue disconcertingly into the realms of parody.
Society – and by osmosis football – has progressed immeasurably since those depressing days of ignorance but to believe that we are now free of racism on our terraces or on our pitches is a grand delusion.
We must ask ourselves – or rather remind ourselves as it’s easy to forget amidst the acres of bombastic newsprint – what the controversies of the past year actually amount to? Two multi-millionaires of questionable character referring to their fellow professionals by the colour of their skin, the refusal to shake hands, and a furore over t-shirts that has unfortunate shades of the blundering bureaucracy of the Peoples Front of Judea in the Life of Brian (“Well quite frankly siblings, I think eradicating racism from the game is unrealistic unless we get all players to wear t-shirts as they warm up” “You’re right, we can sit around here all day, talking and passing resolutions, making clever speeches, it’s not going to change the mindset of one racist fan…what’s that? Some players are refusing to wear them? Right this calls for immediate discussion…”)
As laudable and well-meaning this sustained castigation and introspection is it’s hard not to believe that such a welter of outrage is now becoming ridiculously out of proportion to its targets. Ordinarily this would do us an enormous credit, especially in comparison to the head-in-the-sand mentality of other European countries that are rife with racial problems a thousand times more entrenched and pernicious than our own. Not only are we significantly more enlightened than some of our cousins across the sea but we also have a level of accountability like no other – a level that reaches self-flagellation at times - and long may that continue.
However, the media have become so fixated with the Suarez and Terry soap operas and the principled stance of Ferdinand and numerous other players that it’s to the detriment and distraction of more deserving targets elsewhere.
Indeed this even applies to other racial issues. As already mentioned, a young England Under 21 international was recently subjected to horrific abuse in an English stadium. This was followed by photoshopped images of Marvin Sordell splattered in blood with a gun pointing at his head appearing on social network sites.
Where were the back page condemnations for this disgraceful occurrence? Is it simply that Sordell, a Bolton Wanderers striker, is not high-profile enough to shift sufficient copy? If so perhaps we’re not so self-governing and virtuous after all.
In Serbia last week Sordell and his fellow young lions were thrown back into the stone ages (and had stones literally thrown at them) in one of the most disturbing evenings in modern-day football. On this occasion the media did express suitable outrage but will our authorities now stand up to UEFA and say we will absolutely not tolerate this any longer?
Will they justifiably point out that we, as a nation, have spent a full year subjecting ourselves to hand-wringing and consternation over two words and unrequited handshakes yet we’re expected to send our young black players into potentially life-threatening arenas of hatred simply because international bodies value profit over player and supporter safety?
As laudable and well-meaning this sustained castigation and introspection is it’s hard not to believe that such a welter of outrage is now becoming ridiculously out of proportion to its targets.
Will we tell Platini, Blatter and co that until they grow a collective set of balls and stringently enforce measures that dramatically improve the conditions and mindset of such countries instead of rewarding them with major tournaments we shall not be lectured to again? Or instead will our authorities concentrate their attentions on the PFA and attempt to resolve a non-issue about who did and didn’t wear t-shirts during a domestic weekend warm-up?
One involves courage of conviction while the other centres around minimising bad PR so sadly we all know the answer there.
Whilst on the subject of Platini the Anglophobic numbskull was at White Hart Lane recently to see first hand Lazio fans hurling monkey chants in the direction of three of our English black players. At the risk of sounding John Bullish how can we allow Italian supporters to enter our country and stadia, infect our children’s ears with the most vile, archaic bigotry, then merrily wish them ‘ciao, please come again’?
True to form UEFA fined Lazio a derisory £32,500 – the latest in a raft of paltry punishments that can almost be construed as encouragement for further abominations – so we cannot rely on them.
But what is stopping the F.A from making its own firm stand and banning foreign supporters in European games until further notice? That would send out a clear message that we will not, under any circumstances, tolerate such outrages in our grounds aimed at our players.
It would be a neat reversal of the ban imposed on us in the 1980s and there are some Manchester City fans in Madrid last month who probably wished that ban was still in place. If so they would not have been subjected to completely unprovoked baton charges by Spanish riot police, sustaining head wounds merely for the crime of drinking in a bar, singing songs, and mingling with locals.
As Natalie Pike tweeted at the time, “Women, kids, teenagers, all treated like scum. So out of order.”
If your club is in Europe this season – or has travelled abroad in any capacity in recent times – you will know this barbaric treatment of innocent British fans is almost a common occurrence. Yet you will struggle to find any condemnation in the British press about this. Their photographs of John Terry are just too large.
There is a theory that the abhorrent violence afflicted upon British supporters abroad is a consequence of our hooligan past – in essence being punished for our previous sins – and with this in mind the behaviour of the Leeds fans at Hillsborough last week is of great concern. Whilst the feral cretin who ran on to the pitch and blind-sided Chris Kirkland understandably grabbed the headlines the away mob ripped up seats and hoardings and threw coins and bottles in a disturbing echo of times past. Occurring on the same Leppings Lane terrace that saw 96 people lose their lives to fencing it was a stark reminder of how far we’ve come and what we have to lose.
Are the dark days returning? Has the English disease simply lay dormant? This is a serious question yet I imagine here is one of the few places you’ve seen it asked. Why? Because every column inch is presently full of meaningless bluster about a player going against his manager’s wishes to not wear a t-shirt, a t-shirt that quite bluntly would not have made the slightest difference to anything at all even if he had.
Finally we come to the most startling media, authority and supporter negligence of them all. Remember the sick chants? Where did they go, the blight on the British game that was so prevalent barely a month ago? Despite Sunderland fans wishing Newcastle defender Steven Taylor dead on Saturday you don’t hear about them anymore because in the lead up to the Liverpool v Manchester United clash that came so soon after the Hillsborough findings this huge and troubling issue was reduced to a spoke in the weekly news cycle. And once the media have chewed something around and spat it out such an issue is then considered dead and dealt with.
Even knowing this however it is still shocking and surprising how this transpires.
In a short space of time we’ve come so far yet I maintain we have an awful lot to lose.
For instance, there was such a weight of worry and focus placed upon the possible behaviour of travelling United fans for that one game it inadvertently produced a couple of bizarre and completely unfeasible absolutes.
Firstly that a 90 minute entente cordiale would result in a thawing of the M62 Cold War between both clubs. Secondly – and more pertinently in this case – that should United fans resist from booing over You’ll Never Walk Alone or sing anything egregious pertaining to Hillsborough that would somehow put the whole chanting issue to rest. From that one instance of respect no fans would henceforth claim that Arsene Wenger is a paedophile or mimic the hissing of the gas chambers at Auschwitz when Spurs come to town.
Just a matter of weeks ago there was widespread condemnation and concern for the morality in our stands. Each and every example was highlighted, named and shamed, and for a brief moment it appeared we could actually be getting somewhere to reduce and possibly eradicate such disgraces. But now – as we piously judge the likes of Serbia for their blanket denial of inherent racism – we have returned to covering our ears and going ‘la, la, laaa’ as sections of our own fans shame us by association.
In a short space of time we’ve come so far yet I maintain we have an awful lot to lose. And as is always the case – and always will be the case – we cannot rely on the authorities to help us. As has been starkly proven in recent weeks they will forever be too obsessed with PR and token gestures and too gutless to confront their international counterparts.
So once again it falls upon us, the fans, to look beyond the t-shirts and the headlines to the real issues that threaten our beloved game.
Shall we shake on it?
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