Life

My Big Mouth: Criticising FA and Kick It Out will not put myth of racism in English football to bed

Comment by Jeremy Culley

If recent media hysterics were reliable, you would believe our beloved national sport to be a hotbed of vitriolic racial outbursts.

Well, here is a newsflash. Give the FA – and their Kick it Out campaign – a break because English football is not racist.

It used to be, and quite horrifically as well.

The FA may still be fumbling over the investigation into racist allegations made against referee Mark Clattenburg – another insight into their leisurely pace regarding the issue – but it’s a far cry from what we used to see in England.

The days of standing on urine-soaked terraces, surrounded by leather jacket-clad skinheads calling the opposition striker a ‘black cunt’ are long gone.

In those darker times for football, not only were people from ethnic minorities rarely seen at football grounds, but neither were women or children.

The prognosis for a black football fan at some of the tougher football venues in the 1970s or 80s was distressingly simple – show your face at the wrong moment and get your head kicked in.

Now – with neat all-seater stadiums the rule rather than the exception – wives, kids and, increasingly, black and Asian supporters are regular, fearless visitors to Premier League grounds.

The Sikh men who sit behind Sir Alex Ferguson at Old Trafford – so famous they were used in a promotional campaign for MUTV in 2008 – indicate that some old barriers have fallen down.

Yet, some Premier League black players seem to disagree with this.

Rio Ferdinand and Jason Roberts made the questionable decision to shun the FA’s Kick It Out campaign by refusing to wear their t-shirts in pre-match training.

Their reasons were varied but largely revolved around the governing body’s weak response to high-profile recent racist incidents.

But what exactly should the FA have done?

John Terry was cleared in a court of law of racially abusing QPR defender Anton Ferdinand.

It was enough of a jump for the FA to sanction him any punishment after this, so it seems rich for them to be castigated for meting out too weak a sentence.

Luis Suarez was punished severely for comments he made to Patrice Evra – eight matches representing a far stiffer ban than most offenders get.

Meanwhile, the reprehensible antics of a 28-year-old Chelsea supporter – who has now been arrested after directing monkey gestures at Danny Welbeck during October’s clash with Manchester United – were not the FA’s fault.

But one fact surrounding that story has been missed.

The match in West London was witnessed by 41,644. Yet only one has been charged with racial abuse.

It does not make the matter any less serious, but it should help people keep a sense of perspective.

A well-maintained and well-intentioned campaign should not be judged by the mindless antics of one fan.

Which makes it so frustrating that people are so keen to round on football and accuse it of being stuck in the past.

Certainly, when you consider the widespread nature of football racism in Serbia, Russia and even western European countries such as Italy and Spain, it becomes apparent how minor the issue is here.

What England’s Under-21s faced in Serbia recently would never be seen on these shores today.

Thousands of people were baying for the blood of the black players in England’s ranks, rather than a lone voice going against the crowd in issuing brainless insults.

Even Serbia’s players and coaches seemed complicit in the hostility – winding up the likes of Danny Rose before instigating a mass brawl at the end.

Black players in this country – comprising 30% of English professional footballers in 2009 – mercifully do not have to worry about such abuse each week.

It is true, however, that black managers are not nearly as prevalent as players, a fact consistently used to point to a residual, underlying culture of racism in the country.

It is argued that black managers are still overlooked because of historical stereotypes made against them, while many never try to become a manager for fears of not being taken seriously.

He advocated a system similar to the PFA-proposed Rooney Rule, whereby each managerial vacancy can only be filled if a black candidate is interviewed for the job.

This positive discrimination – aside from representing artificial promotion – might encourage retiring black players to take up management where once they will have walked away.

But it still misses the crux of the matter, which explains why British football today is not racist.

For football to embrace black managers and finally eliminate the foolish few who insist on viewing the sport’s shameful former days with pride, society must make the first move.

Our country is far more liberal and diverse a place than it was in the 1970s, which explains why black footballers now suffer so few problems in their careers here.

If societal attitudes shift again with the next generation, black managers will surely rise in number and prominence as well.

It will not happen overnight, making criticism of the FA’s attempts to highlight the plight of the sport’s black professionals seem petty.

But when it does, it will finally mean the myth of racist English football can finally be put to bed.

Please note: Opinions expressed above are those of the journalist and do not necessarily represent the views of Mancunian Matters.

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