Racism in football – a long way gone, a long way to go

20th November, 2011 10:36 am

“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.

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  • An interesting post.

    I feel Blatter’s latest comments are “nutty” rather than racist per se – the idea that anything can now be sorted by a firm handshake after the game, is quaint and naive – and perhaps the cynic in me thinks that may well have been his intention – to make himself appear like an out of touch old man, so that some of his more corrupt pronouncements and actions, might appear a little more benign. Clearly the public aren’t buying it though

    One commentator on Twitter this week said that Blatter is clearly not racist – he doesn’t care about the colour of your skin, but the colour of your money in the envelope under the table. I feel that he is a wicked man, but that racism is not high on the pecking order of his wrong doings – although still something of which I disapprove.

    Overall  I tend to agree with the main thrust of what you say here – we have come a long way, but there’s still a long way to go.

    Dave Whelan’s comments are foolish – we’re not talking about insults – I’m sure many sportsmen insult each other all the time without raising any headlines (and it’s a mandatory part of the build up in boxing) – we’re talking about racist insults. The reasonwhy black players racially abusing white players isn’t news is because it’s in the context of a society dominated by white English people. If some calls me a “Brit” in Milton Keynes, I as a white male am not particularly concerned. If I called someone a “Paki” it would be different. Just as it might well be different if I were the only white man living in a town in Pakistan. Context is everything, as is intention.

    That said, I do wonder sometimes whether we should perhaps have just a little more tolerance of racism. I’ve fallen out with more people than perhaps I should have because of things people have said, that I’ve thought were racist. I’m pretty uncompromising in my lack of accommodation for racism. Yet how long will it be be before we can forgive the likes of Ron Atkinson ? His “crime” was to use grossly offensive language towards a black player, before the whole country. Quite rightly he resigned. Quite rightly he has found it hard to re-enter the sports personality entertainment industry. Compare him though with Geoff Boycott – who I understand was convicted of punching a woman in the face, yet continues to be a key personality on radio coverage of cricket.

    We’ve also showed that we can be mature enough to forgive former terrorists, and welcome them back to mainstream politics, if they pursue the ballot box rather than the bomb. What does Ron Atkinson have to do to get the little eyebrows which will bring him back from the purgatory of perpetually standing empty at the second post ?

    Finally – if anyone has a link to a clip of  David Whelan and Stuart Hall singing a duet of “If you were the only girl in the world” together on Radio 5 Live Sports Report  a couple of weeks back , then please post it – it was a moment of pure radio heaven.

  • Anonymous

    Funny old world two players and a bloke not know for being wise at FIFA   and we see the TV go mad about ricism. Not to long ago Labour were accusing the disabled of  being work shy and scroungers but that’s not seen as being racist.

    We have a comedian using the term Mong, yet  that’s not seen as an insult, after all people with funny faces are funny.

    Racism, we live in a country of them and us, rich and poor, we have Labour going around saying British Jobs for British people, yet you have Indian Families sending  Pregnant mothers back to Indian not to have British children, we had labour bending it knee’s to get votes by allowing the Bangladeshi to set up their own cricket league in London, in the hope this would do what integrate.

    I just cannot be bothered, yes yes I know I’m BNP well so far they have not shoved children in prisons  cells as labour has done.

    Every few years something blows up in Football and all hell blow up, a ex soldier and his disabled wife commits suicide over poverty F*ck all.

    Next month it will be referee’s who dress in black are insult to somebody or other.

    I just cannot be bothered any more.

  • Anonymous

    Racism is stupid, which makes me think that the majority of people can be educated to realise that it is wrong.  Terry and Suarez will find it very difficult to work in football if they really are racists, because they will always have several black team mates.  However, like many white people they may have prejudices that come out in the heat of the moment on the pitch.   They should be banned for a few games if they made those comments but following that should the emphasis be on educating players to realise that it is wrong to make such comments? 


  • GuyM

    Racism and sexism for that matter are both completely unacceptable.

    But that means a black person being racist about a white person is equally unaacetpable and a women being sexist about a man the same.

    The problem with the right on pc crown in the Labour party is they are unable to accept that level of “equality” and seem to think there is an historical scorecard being kept that means they can turn a blind eye to some forms of racism and sexism.

    The same applies to the anti middle class diatribes, that if replicated in the other direction get some people near foaming at the mouth.

  • Anonymous

    Blatter is and always has been an idiot and most things he say’s this included are wrong.

    However Whelan actually has a point. Not the point that the author would like to pretend he made, that racial abuse is ok (which obviously it isn’t) but that the “race card” is all to often used against any one having any disagreement with someone from an minority group. 

    I’ve had my own experience with this a few years ago; our upstairs neighbours are an asian family. They are and always have been very noisy some times into the early hours of the morning and we had cause to complain to the council. Imagine my surprise when the council phoned me back the next day to solemnly announce that they suspected that my complaint was racially motivated! Apparently we had racially abused our neighbours despite never having actually spoken to any of them. I made my feelings on the allegations very clear and the council very sensibly backed down rapidly. 

    About 6 months ago the same family bought a dog. I myself have a dog and I know what a pain they can be to keep quiet so we ignored the puppies barking. However what I refused to ignore was the fact that instead of taking the dog outside to do its business they would put it out on the balcony (directly above our garden door) and then throw a bucket of water over it washing the whole mess into our garden for us to deal with (and once almost hitting me on the head). 

    So we complained to the council……. and within a few days we received a call to tell us that our neighbours had launched a racial harrassment complaint against us and we were required to attend mediation! 

    Would this have happened if it was two white or two asian neighbours involved? Of course not.

    So Whelan is quite correct to note that often completely unracially motivated disputes are represented as racial disputes in order to win. 

  • Anonymous

    It’s also a question of historic balance of power in institutions/structures-
    affecting attitudes and behaviour; not just simple prejudice.

    For example, as applied to football- factors like ethnicity of players chosen historically
    and numbers outweighing; possibly “macho” attitudes culturally;
    perception of norms.

    I’m curious to know for example, why so few Asian players in some sports
    such as seen in British cricket?

    Not that I follow closely, but do hear coverage occasionally in the news.

    I think Radio 5 Live is an interesting mix of sport and politics;
    good to hear a lot of female as well as male coverage too.


    • GuyM

      “Macho”, you mean a typical male bonding culture in sports and the like?

      I see nothing wrong with a “macho” environment. My time playing competitive sport was in part enjoyable for that “macho” team atmosphere. Certainly feminism and the like hard no part in that team environment and rightly so.

      As to English Cricket, they pick the best players and are number one in the world in two of the three forms of the game. I spent near 10 years playing county league cricket with a number of asian and black teammates. There was no racism at all evident.

      In terms of the England team, the list of Asian and Asian background players representing England in recent years, includes:

      Nasser Hussain (former England Captain)
      Monty Panesar
      Adil Rashid
      Sajid Mahmood
      Kabir Ali
      Vikram Solanki
      Ravi Bopara
      Samit Patel

      and England’s current spin bowling coach is the famous former Pakistan test player Mushtaq Ahmed (he’s fondly known as Mushy), who was a close knit member of the England party in the Ashes win last winter – to the extent he gets a lot of support from the Barmy Army (England’s mass of travelling fans).

      You have dived in with a comment knocking English cricket at a time when we are the best in the world and when by your own admission you don’t follow it closely.

      You really should try not to throw comments about, like you have done about English cricket, when you are unaware of the facts.

    • Anonymous

      No difference really why a lot of white children black children do not play football and cricket they are either not good enough or not interested.

      When I coached football the vast majority of the children would not even make it to the local grass roots  clubs because they were basically not good enough.

      Most of the Asians I know who have taken up sports go onto play locally, and play at a good standard, but the young children are not allowed to get involved for the reason of faith and trust, what we need are more Muslim and Asian coaches, but not Muslim or Asian leagues.

  • Anonymous

    Good article as ever Connor; personally I haven’t been following this story closely,
    but there’s clearly a lot of interest swirling around.

    Racism in sport is a big topic- as anywhere.

    Would just like to add- that photo is brilliant!



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