“Why is it that if a man kills another man in battle, it’s called heroic, yet if he kills a man in the heat of passion, it’s called murder?” That’s a quote from the 1992 film Wayne’s World. It will be relevant later.
Wolverhampton Wanderers beat Blackburn Rovers 3-0 in the 1960 FA Cup Final. During the match, Rovers full-back Dave Whelan became a victim of the ‘Wembley hoodoo’ which haunted the stadium during 1950s and ‘60s, and broke his leg. He recovered, and continued to play football, though they say he was never the same after the injury.
During his recovery, he bought a stall on Blackburn market. Fans wanted to make sure Whelan could make a living while he was out of action (and in those days, footballers weren’t paid a great deal) and the little stall did very well. It did so well, in fact, that he retired a few years later and turned it into a chain, before buying the company we now know as JJB Sports.
It’s a nice story and a reason I’ve always liked Dave Whelan. Even if he is a Tory. Indeed, if one was so inclined, I’m sure there is a blogpost to be written on how Labour should try to win the support of working class small business owners.
But a couple of weeks ago, Whelan weighed in on the racism debate that’s currently engrossing English football. It was an unfortunate foreshadowing of FIFA President Sepp Blatter’s stupid comments this week.
“If a white man insults a black man that’s big, big, news.” Whelan said, “But if a black man insults a white man, that’s nothing, and it’s expected.”
It’s not dissimilar to the defences given to Ron Atkinson a few years ago, when he used the n-word whilst commentating on a Champions League football match, unaware that he was still on air. Part and parcel of the game, and all that…
But it isn’t. Not anymore. Football has come a long way. Dave Whelan is a relic of a by-gone era, in this country at least. His comments are not a sad indictment of football in this country, but a reminder of how far we’ve come.
Sepp Blatter’s point was that football players can be driven by adrenaline and frustration to do and say things they wouldn’t otherwise do. It’s the “killing a man in the heat of passion” defence, quoted above. He might actually have a case, up to a point. I remember during a match against Birmingham City, the former Blackburn captain Andy Todd kicking French World Cup winner Christophe Dugarry up the bum, something he might not have done outside the heated parameters of a football match. But although adrenaline may be an excuse, it isn’t one that’s acceptable. In the end, you are to be held fully accountable for your actions, no matter how you arrived at them. It’s something that – thankfully – the English FA recognise.
Worryingly, Blatter’s words, unlike Whelan’s, do seem to reflect a wider problem in football outside of the UK. When Luis Suarez, the Liverpool player, allegedly racially abused Patrice Evra during a game, there was no suggestion he might be dropped by Uruguay. Ditto Sergio Busquets by Spain, when a similar allegation was made by Real Madrid player Marcelo.
Following the Suarez incident, fellow Uruguayan Gus Poyet leapt to his defence, saying Suarez was no racist and that England had to try and understand different cultures, rather than think they were right all the time. Spain has a notoriously poor reputation for tackling racism, fining clubs pittances when their fans racially abuse opposition players and their national coach Luis Aragones only a days’ wage when he attempted to “motivate” Jose Reyes by making racist remarks about Thierry Henry.
Over here, when a Blackburn Rovers fan was caught making monkey noises at Dwight Yorke during a match, he was banned from the ground and taken to court. Ron Atkinson can no longer get a job in football.
These are the kind of things we should keep pushing, especially if it means that one day we can get to a point where the New Statesman has to stop regurgitating under a different name its seemingly bi-annual blog about lefties having to dislike football. We’ve still got a way to go in this country, but we’ve certainly come a long way and we’re still miles ahead of loads of other countries. Cameron should have gone further this week and called for Blatter to resign. The UK has done more to tackle racism in football than most other major footballing countries over the past 20 years and for this, oddly, we should be proud.
Let us now push the rest of them to catch up.