Taken from Kenan Maliks blog Pandaemonium. Please follow it here.
I have been meaning for a while to write about the current controversy over racism in English football. Lack of time has prevented me from doing so but today’s match between Chelsea and Liverpool is too good an opportunity to pass up.
These are, of course, the two clubs at the heart of that controversy. Earlier this year, Luis Suarez, Liverpool’s Uruguayan forward, was banned for eight matches for calling Manchester United’s Patrice Evra a ‘negrito’. Suarez insisted that this was colloquial Spanish for ‘mate’. An FA disciplinary board found him guilty of racism. More recently Chelsea (and former England) captain John Terry was accused of racially abusing Queen’s Park Rangers defender Anton Ferdinand during a match. This time the police got involved. Terry was charged under the criminal law with using ‘abusive language’ but was acquitted in court. After that acquittal the FA charged him with the same offence and, with a lower burden of proof, found him guilty. Then last month, Chelsea accused a referee, Mark Clattenburg, of using ‘inappropriate’, and reportedly racist, language towards two of its players, a claim currently being investigated by both the police and the FA.
The discussion of these cases by football authorities, politicians and the media has led to a growing sense of English football as a hotbed of racism. A number of leading black players, including Rio Ferdinand and Jason Roberts, have accusedKick It Out, football’s official antiracist campaign of being ‘soft’ on racism. Some have threatened to create a breakaway union black players’ union. A national poll revealed that 40 per cent of people think that racism is ‘rife’ in football and more than half believe it will never be eliminated.
As someone who has been both watching football and fighting racism for nearly thirty years, I find much of this discussion surreal. I am, for my sins, a Liverpool fan. I am Gary Neville’s worst nightmare – probably the only person brought up in Manchester who ended up supporting the real Reds. I arrived in Britain as a six-year-old, knowing nothing about football, still less about the sociology of tribal support. By the time I found about the bitterness of the rivalry between Liverpool and Manchester United, it was too late. The tribal, irrational, unconditional nature of football support meant that I was stuck with my loyalties.
In my teenage years visiting Anfield, standing on the Kop, I was often spat on, kicked, called a ‘fucking Paki cunt’ and worse. I was hailed not infrequently with a chorus of ‘There ain’t no black in the Union Jack, so all the Pakis can fuck off back’. Not just from the visiting fans, though that often happened, but also from the Kop faithful. Not by everyone on the Kop, of course, or even by most people, but by a significant number, and a significant number that was largely tolerated. In the 70s and 80s racism was endemic in the football, and the authorities did not want to know.
Why did I carry on supporting Liverpool despite the abuse? Partly because sporting obsessions are rarely driven by rational considerations. Partly because to have stopped watching football would have been to give into racism; and I am the kind of person who, if I am told I cannot do something, I insist even more on doing it. And partly because standing on the Kop was little different then from standing on any street corner in Britain. Britain was a very different place then, and so was football. Racism then was vicious, visceral and often fatal. Stabbings were everyday facts of life, firebombings almost weekly events, and murders all too common.
This is why the current furore over racism seems so bizarre. I cannot remember the last time I faced the kind of abuse that was so common in the eighties. Racism still exists, of course, and needs always to be confronted, but it is relatively isolated. Indeed, it is precisely because racism is so rare that it seems so shocking when we are confronted with it.
If I cannot remember the last time I faced the kind of abuse that was so common in the seventies and eighties, nor can most players. David James was for many years the England goalkeeper, one of England’s leading black players and a highly articulate opponent of racism. ‘I struggle with the racist issue in football’ he observed recently at a ‘Leaders in Football’ conference at Stamford Bridge recently. Not because he faces racism all the time, but because he so rarely does. ‘I don’t see it’, James said, ‘and that’s not because I’ve got my head in the sand. In the earlier days, yes, but the game’s changed.’ In the whole of the 2010-11 season, there were just 43 arrests in England for racist or indecent chanting. A number of black players have certainly faced nasty abuse on Twitter, but that tells us more about the character of Internet discussions than it does about racism in football.
The fact that racism is rare, does not mean that it should not be challenged wherever it appears. But just because racism is not right does not mean that we should pretend that it is rife.
If racism is not the issue that once it was, why the sudden interest on the part of the football authorities in combating racism? Having spent decades ignoring racism in the sport when it was a real, live issue and required a robust response, the FA is now trying to gain the moral high ground by conducting a war that has largely been won. It would have taken guts and commitment to have stood up to racism three decades ago. Today, the FA is trying to clamber on to a moral high ground that has long since become crowded.
If the character of racism has changed over the past three decades, so too has the character of antiracism. Antiracism has all too often become less about challenging discrimination or hatred, more about moral posturing. ‘A lot of the issues that we’ve gone on about in the last season or so, it’s more about people driving the issue than the issue being a real focus’, as David James put it.
Antiracism has also increasingly become a matter of social control, of the law defining what is and is not acceptable for people to say. Consider two recent cases. Last month, Rangers fan Connor McGhie was jailed for three months for ‘religiously aggravated breach of the peace’ for singing ‘offensive songs which referred to the Pope and the Vatican and called Celtic “Fenian bastards”’. Meanwhile the Society of Black Lawyers have threatened Spurs fans with court actionif they continue to refer to themselves as ‘Yids’ or the ‘Yid Army’. The Rangers fan was undoubtedly motivated by bigotry, the Spurs fans mostly by a desire to challenge bigotry. Both cases reveal, however, how antiracism in football has become part of the wider campaign to use the criminal law to ban speech deemed offensive or hateful.
I have long argued that the giving of offence, and even hate speech, should be a moral matter but not a matter for the criminal law. That is as true on the football pitch as on the streets. We should always challenge racism. We should also always challenge attacks on liberties in the guise of faux antiracism.
Saturday 29th October • 3pm • Football league boycott
A call for every football fan to boycott the first five minutes of every League game played this Saturday to draw attention to the controversial EPPP (Elite Player Performance Plan) youth academies and show the strength of opposition to the proposals.
We are ‘the 72 unite’, made up of supporters from Football League clubs who are angered by, and at a loss to explain, the news that the proposed legislative changes to the existing academy systems have been voted in favour of. In the current financial climate with the divide between rich and poor widening on a daily basis, Modern Football continues to be an exaggerated version of the overall global picture.
THE RICH CONTINUE TO GET RICHER, WHILE THE POOR SUFFER.
Lower league football is dying, starved by Premier League greed and excess. Attendances are down, and clubs will soon cease to exist, unable to balance the books to survive let-alone compete with the elite. The lifeblood of Football League clubs are their successful academy systems, some of which have supported and sustained clubs for many years, producing local, homegrown talent representative of the area and fanbase. Today’s ruling cuts this essential lifeblood at the arteries and will signal the death knell, the final nail in the coffin for the survival of Professional Football outside the Premier League.
In response we are calling for action from EVERY FAN at EVERY MATCH on Saturday 29th October 2011 to UNITE, rise-up and fight for the very existence of their clubs. It’s NOW OR NEVER we must met the Premier League and FA know we will not be trampled on.
EVERY FAN, EVERY GAME – BOYCOTT FIRST FIVE MINUTES TO DRAW ATTENTION TO THIS AND SHOW THE STRENGTH OF OPPOSITION TO PROPOSALS
The ‘Elite Player Performance Plan’ Will Kill Our Game
On Thursday 20th October the 72 Football League clubs voted in favour of the ‘Elite Player Performance Plan’ (EPPP), a radical new overhaul of the current national youth system. The changes include the scrapping of the current tribunal system, which previously determined the fee a club would have to pay another for a youth player, and the implementation of a ‘tier’ rating for each club’s youth system.
Top down tier ranking
In the new tier formulation clubs’ youth systems are now ranked according to how many staff they employ and how much they spend on their youth development. To be rated as tier 1, the club’s academy must have an annual budget exceeding £2.3m, at least 18 full-time employees, excellent training facilities as well as school places. What a tier 1 ranking gets you is the pick of pretty much all youth players in the country, considering the 90-minute rule [academy players must live within 90 minutes of their club’s ground] has now been abolished. Contact time with youth players will also be increased with tier 1 academies. At the other end of the scale will be the tier 4 academies, acting as a ‘safety net’ and only allowed to pick up previously failed youth players at the age of 16. Tier 3 academies will have no contact with youth players until the age of 12. As it stands, the only academies in the country who will be rated as tier 1 when the EPPP is implemented at the start of the 2012-13 season are Southampton’s, Chelsea’s, and Manchester City’s, but you can expect Manchester United’s, Arsenal’s, and Liverpool’s to have reached this ‘prestigious’ status by that time.
The vote passed with 46 votes in favour, 22 against, 3 no-shows and 1 abstention. What is startling about these figures is that 3 clubs didn’t even bother to turn up to the vote of one of the most significant changes to English football, but more importantly, the fact that only 23 clubs had the courage to stand up to the monstrous machine that is the Premier League. All are a credit to the Football League, with the ones who voted in favour a shameful symbol of how our game is being killed off.
The questions that have to be asked are, that if the plan is bound to be so successful for English football as a whole, why did the Premier League have to threaten to withdraw the £5m funding they currently provide Football League clubs per annum if they voted against it? This is blackmail in its most blatant form, and is proof as to how flawed the plan actually is that it is required to force it through. More so, is this new scheme really centred on just strengthening the national team? No. It is simply about the big teams hoovering up all the talent in the country. Do you really think that Manchester United, owned by the American Glazers, Manchester City, owned by the Abu Dhabi Sheikhs, or Chelsea, owned by the Russian Abramovich, care one iota for the success of the national team? Of course they don’t, and once again the shortcomings that foreign ownership brings are highlighted.
Quietly killing the game
In my mind at least, the EPPP is frankly scandalous, and it is an outrage that it has been passed with so little reaction. What it means is that the days of going to watch local players play for your local team will soon be gone (it is estimated that between 30-40 youth systems in the Football League will now be scrapped, such is the pure worthlessness of having such systems with this scheme in place). It means that the rich will be getting richer, and whilst Premier League chief pigs such as Robert Scudamore can jolly it up discussing the ‘39th game’ over their prawn sandwiches, those silly little clubs in the Football League will be fighting to stay afloat, now that a great sum of their income has been removed. What the EPPP is doing is ripping the heart out of our game, the lifeblood of our clubs and it says it all that they had to extort the Football League clubs to make this ridiculous plan pass.
Clubs bought off
Most, if not all, of the Football League clubs who voted in favour are not actually in favour of the EPPP; the vote made for it is a direct result of the threat of the withdrawal of the £5m per annum the Premier League currently grants Football League clubs, money which without, they would find it hard to survive. Barry Fry, Peterborough’s Director of Football, has spoken of how the Premier League’s threat felt like blackmail, whilst co-owner of Crystal Palace Steve Parish has expressed his fury at the agreement, claiming that Football League clubs ‘took their 30 pieces of silver’, and condemned last Thursday as a ‘dreadful day for football’.
If you agree with how ridiculous the EPPP is, I would also hope you agree with the fact that we cannot just sit there at let this happen. We cannot just treat this ruthless action with a vast degree of apathy and accept that our game is dying, and there is nothing we can do.
There is a movement, under the heading ‘The 72 Unite’, designed to combat this overhaul of the English game and the disgusting actions of the Premier League. They have made a statement and the first course of action is a proposed boycott of the first five minutes of every league game in English football on the weekend of the 29th October, in order to draw attention to how we, the loyal supporters upon which our clubs thrive upon, feel about the prospective changes. This will not be the only event, with more being planned, and it is true that one 5 minute boycott will change nothing, but it is a start and brings a platform for us to voice our disdain.
Along with participating in the boycott, we ought to do our part and start circulating not only the group and its plans, but also just how shady and destructive the EPPP is. Something I have been astounded by is how little people know of it, or how many people do not even know of its existence. Football fans up and down the country must be made aware that our game is at risk from the greed of the Premier League; and consequently, the Premier League must be made aware that we are not going to allow this to happen without serious opposition.