Throughout history change has never been painless and simple, it’s been fraught with controversy, conflict and contention. Whether it’s been civil rights, an acceptance towards homosexuality, women getting the vote or the end of slavery/apartheid/Brookside, the change hasn’t been easy but it’s always been worth it.
The idea of eradicating racism from football seems about as likely as electing a black President seemed ten year ago, but sometimes through force of will, a change in understanding and dare I say, the lack of fear of the previously unknown even the most unlikely of goals can become achievable.
Recently we’ve seen the spectre of racism in football rear it’s ugly white-hood covered head again as the likes of Danny Rose, Anton Ferdinand and Marvin Sordell -allegedly- have all been racially abused.
I’ve heard several arguments on this point in recent weeks that have made my blood boil and my eyes roll -although not at the same time as I’m crap at multi-tasking.
Statements -usually from middle-aged rich white men- ranging from “racism isn’t a THAT MUCH of a problem anymore” to “it’s not NEARLY as bad as it used to be” have been thrown around with wanton abandon as though we’re all meant to be somehow grateful we’ve only had ‘a few’ young black men abused for the colour of their skin over the past 12 months.
Even someone as seemingly intelligent and understanding of the race issue as David James have come out with the quite frankly ridiculous statement that ‘racism is no longer a problem in football’ perhaps the same way handling or positional sense wasn’t a problem when goalkeeping eh Dave?
The saddest part of the whole racism saga of recent times is that the actual victims have been made to look as though they’re in the wrong, while the perpetrators are held up as some form of martyrs all in the name of ‘tribalism’ – although ‘idiocy’ would be more apt.
Patrice Evra was not only roundly booed at Anfield for having the temerity to take offence at being called something which was offensive in the seventies let alone now, he was also chastised on social networks and certain media as a ‘trouble causer’ as erroneous points about his past were raised. Let’s also not forget the ‘monkey gesture man incident.
The Sun did it’s best to diffuse the situation by posting a video online of him using the ‘N’ word back in 2004 almost as if it negated his right to prosecute someone for racially abusing him.
Anton Ferdinand was lambasted by almost any Chelsea fan with a keyboard- not to mention reminded of ‘what he is’ by fans at matches, while even fans of teams with no affiliation to John Terry have rammed the former England captain’s name down his throat.
Rio was also booed at Stamford Bridge for being Anton’s brother – although now some Chelsea fans are actually trying to re-write history by claiming it was for ‘choc-ice’ gate- despite the fact that happened AFTER the Chelsea United game.
Ashley Cole was racially abused on twitter- yes Rio took part and was rightly punished but let’s not ignore the fact the left back recieved unneccesary stick.
Tom Adeyemi was reduced to tears at Anfield due to racial abuse which is one of the saddest moments we’ve seen on a football pitch in recent times.
Danny Rose was abused by fans in the recent England under 21 game in Serbia, while the FA are investigating claims by Bolton’s Marvin Sordell that him and team mates Lee Chung-Yong, Darren Pratley and Benik Afobe were racially abused at the New Den by Millwall fans.
This isn’t just a ‘recent’ development though, we’ve seen racial abuse throughout the Premier League era from fans and players alike- Stuart “it wasn’t appropriate at that time” Pearce anyone?
The idea of drastic action in the form of a separate union being needed to tackle racism seems to have come from the four match ban handed to Terry for shouting “f******* black ****” at Anton Ferdinand. Whether you agree Terry meant it as an insult or not, the fact the FA waited for the court case to be resolved, allowed him to represent the national side then even when finding him guilty could only hand out a four match ban disappointed a lot of people, many of them black.
The recent refusal to wear ‘Kick It Out’ t-shirts by several black players has caused controversy, yet the point doesnt seem to be aimed at just them, more the whole football establishment- which also funds KIO- who’ve let black players down, badly.
Look at it from the point of black players, the England manager comes out in defence of Terry- hoping he’s cleared, the then Chelsea manager refuses to condemn his own fans for chanting ‘Anton Ferdinand you know what you are’ – although the club did release an official statement.
Liverpool football club completely back Luis Suarez- even going as far as to wear t-shirts in support of him, the manager of the England under 21s and one time caretaker boss has himself racially abused a fellow pro.
I’m not saying Pearce is racist, he isn’t, but it’s a difficult pill to swallow sometimes when you see people who’ve made racist remarks in positions of power within football while justice still hasn’t been served for many of the people who’ve been victims of it.
Since the talk of a breakaway union was mooted, the PFA have announced a ‘six point plan’
The plan states:
1) Speeding up the process of dealing with reported racist abuse with close monitoring of any incidents.
2) Consideration of stiffer penalties for racist abuse and to include an equality awareness programme for culprits and clubs involved.
3) An English form of the ‘Rooney rule’ – introduced by the NFL in America in 2003 – to make sure qualified black coaches are on interview lists for job vacancies.
4) The proportion of black coaches and managers to be monitored and any inequality or progress highlighted.
5) Racial abuse to be considered gross misconduct in player and coach contracts (and therefore potentially a sackable offence).
6) To not to lose sight of other equality issues such as gender, sexual orientation, disability, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and Asians in football.
This all sounds well and good, but like Woodrow Wilson’s ‘fourteen points’ there’s no guarantee this plan will ever get further than the suggestion box.
The Ferdinand brothers released the following statement yesterday:
“It has been a year since the incident at Loftus Road.
“During that time, some of the deep divisions that exist in football have been exposed. In the coming months there will be ongoing discussions, we are sure, on finding a way forward. We intend to participate in these discussions, along with numerous other current and ex-professionals of all races, from the grass roots upwards, across the football community as a whole.
“On the issue of Kick It Out, we would like to go on record to say what fantastic work they have done in the past regarding education and awareness. However, times change and organisations need to change with them. We are more than happy to join the discussion, privately, to make Kick It Out more relevant in its fight to stamp out racism in football.
“Although we have been left disappointed by the PFA and the FA’s actions over the last year, as a family, we are committed to working with football’s existing organisations towards the betterment of the game and to achieve immediate action.”
The statements from both the PFA and the Ferdinand brothers are a step in the right direction although it remains to be seen whether the ‘six point plan’ will amount to anything. The first real steps towards moving forward can come at Stamford Bridge with Rio and Ashley Cole hopefully shaking hands and showing that they’re willing to put all this behind them and show a bit of maturity which could encourage the fans to do the same…maybe I’m asking too much.