Why we can’t stop racists in football in England?

by Tony Attwood

Of course as a regular football supporter who is not a criminologist I can’t give you a definitive answer to that question in the headline.  But I can raise a point that I think is sometimes missed in the debate.

At the moment racism in football in England is big news.   “Resurgent racism illustrates just how much work football still has to do” said a headline in the Guardian.   “Twitter urged to tackle ‘vile’ racist abuse towards stars like Mohamed Salah and Raheem Sterling” was at the top of an article in the Mirror.

What’s more, some publications are offering more general approaches… The Independent for example has a section titled, “Racism in football – latest news, breaking stories and comment” while CNN has  “Racism in Football -CNN investigates the scourge of soccer that is racism in football.”

And yes there are incidents arising all the time.  Zaha was called “a diving monkey” for example, while Danny Rose has been much commented upon after he said, “I can’t wait to see the back of football.”  And of course Raheem Sterling has long been calling for action.

And it is happening at all levels.   Nathan Byrne of Wigan posted an picture of a truly awful message he received on Twitter.  Northampton Town have said their players had been racially abused while walking in Nottingham before a game against Notts County.

The whole issue takes me back to a complaint I raised years ago, when Sol Campbell was playing for Portsmouth against Tottenham, and was subjected to the most awful abuse from the visiting supporters.  It was reported that little action was taken because of the difficulty of identifying the supporters involved.

And yet all those supporters in the away end would have bought their tickets through the club or touts, and all were caught on film.   If it were shown that many of those filmed were not the people who had bought tickets then all those who bought tickets and sold them on, could have been banned.  As it was I think hardly anyone was dealt with.

So yes, sometimes clubs could do more. But  it seems to me there is another dimension to all this which is not being looked at.   The idea being propogated in the media is that this is a particular football problem.  Not that racism and abuse does not exist anywhere else, but that it is particularly prevelant in football.

And yet it clearly does exist in many parts of society in England, and it is clearly, from my observation in town centres, getting worse.

But I would add that the increase in racism is, it seems to me, linked to an increase in abuse in general.  For (and again I have to stress – “it seems to me”) abuse is, for some people, becoming the start of any discussion or disagreement.   One hears and sees it on the streets, when driving, everywhere.

There is of course abuse going on in other countires – the French Gilets Jaunes movement incorporated a fair amount of abuse on all sides, but my impression is that abuse elsehwere is not at the centre of everyday life as it is becoming in parts of England.

Now if I am right, focussing on the current situation both as a racism issue, and a football issue, are not helping.  That is not to say that the abuse the media has been focussing is not racist – of course it is, and of course that is intolerable.  But it is possible to argue that what we are seeing in football is just a concentrated version of what exists all over the country, and that racism is just one particularly nasty example of a culture of abuse.

Whether, in the short term, England can turn itself from a country that seems to be focussed on abuse first and reasoned discussion last, into the reverse, I rather doubt.   But putting the blame on football not only does football an injustice, but also excuses politicians from looking at a much broader problem.

A few arrests, a few bland statements about not tolerating this, are not getting rid of the problem, largely I think because football is a microcosm of our society.

I don’t offer any solutions, but I do think that the media have a vested interest in portraying the issue as a football issue, because the alternative is to say that something is rotten in the whole state of England.  And that is not a message that any media outlet will set out, because it attacks its own readers.

Bleak times, I fear, are ahead.

5 Replies to “Why we can’t stop racists in football in England?”

  1. I’m completely with you on this Tony but I do think that there is an opportunity here, now that the spotlight is shining on squarely on football. The game is high profile all over the world with English football being beamed into homes, bars and clubs across the globe. If they chose to, the footballing authorities could send out a huge message that racism is unacceptable in football……………..and subsequently that it is wrong in societal terms. I genuinely believe this is what most people think anyway albeit a slightly smaller proportion than it used to be since hatred seems to have become more ‘legitimate’ in recent years.

    Sadly though, we have seen how the authorities work. In 2012 Lord Bendtner accidentally exposed an unauthorised sponsors name when celebrating a goal for Denmark and was fined £80,000 for doing so. The same year, Porto were fined £16,700 for racist chants. In 2009 Chelsea were fined £85,000 for “failing to control their players” against Barca whereas the previous season, we saw the Croation FA fined £10,000 because their fans had racist banners and were guilty of racist behaviour.

    This is how seriously the footballing authorities take racism yet it is a multinational sport. What the hell is wrong with making teams play for a whole season behind closed doors, docking points, kicking teams out of tournaments, or imposing massive fines in the millions? I know some people will say that this punishes the majority for the actions of the minority but it is the responsibility of all of us and we all need to stand up and be counted. Of course it raises the question of how long would it take for a bunch of idiot Spuds (purely as an example) to acquire tickets to a game at the Emirates and masquerade as racist Arsenal fans but as you say, the clubs know who bought the tickets and the clubs should therefore be playing their part too in identifying those involved, whatever part they played.

    Sadly, I believe that the reason why the authorities choose not to do anything of significance is tantamount to racism itself. Is it because they fear it might impact on the hugely lucrative gravy train they ride upon? Probably.

    Given the above, I disagree with Raheem Sterling and believe that players should leave the pitch and refuse to play if confronted with racist behaviour. If the TV companies have no football to show and the authorities (and clubs) risk losing sponsorship money they might just be forced to act. Not necessarily out of a sense of ethics but because they might find the gravy train start to become less lucrative. It might not make them care any more but at least Joe Public might get the message that it’s a big deal and should not be tolerated. People learn their morals from those around them and what the see. I am trying to avoid the ‘B’ word but the plethora of anti-foreign rhetoric that has been banded about over the last few years seems to have coincided with a rise in hate crime. I’d suggest there was some direct relationship there. Perhaps football has the chance to teach society at large something about morals. Don’t hold your breath though.

  2. Metro has an article on racism in east London, including an official:

    In what he says is the latest in a ‘long list of racist incidents’, Imrul claims that before the game even started a referee told his player ‘your lot are not winning this’.


    I can’t seem to see it written as to who that official was. I’m sure 😈 Mike Riley will be investigating this person to promote to the EPL.


    OT: Food

    London-Eater has a page on good food near London stadia. Arsenal has 3 mentioned (about midway through article): Sambal Shiok Laksa Bar, Westerns Laundry and Xi’an Impression London. It is dated today


    OT: Spuds

    I see Pochettino is still worried about VAR. He must be wondering how officials would be able to continue ignoring spuds fouling if VAR is used more. Well, he is worried about about how the officials will continue to tilt all manner of games, but mostly the games spuds are playing in.

  3. The abuse of individuals with reference to their look, origin or ethnicity is the major area that we see in reports of racism. The real racism can be seen in the representation of ethnicity in boardrooms and management structure. It is similar to the gender discrimination except it is ethnicity and in some ways less noticable.

    On the sporting field we see a multi ethnic set of players but generally a select set of officials & a select set of boardroom members in the FA. Change will come gradually as more publicity exposes the secret world of the se;ect.

    Back to the present – lets hope our security stop all flares from entering the ground v Napoli. It is unacceptable & dangerous.

  4. @Tony, I completely agree with you. And indeed on this site I have argued consistently against abuse. We can disagree without stooping to abuse slinging. Probably this abuse culture has a connection with the social media age we’re living in, but we can do more, on the site, in society to curb it

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