Racial abuse in English football isn’t what it used to be, but it’s an evil we must still confront

The recent appalling racism in English football is not a sign that we’ve learned nothing, it’s just a sign that those who forget the past are destined to repeat it

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Luis Suarez avoids Patrice Evra's handshake this weekend, much to Evra's disdain
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Dane Vallejo
On 13 February 2012 15:28

Since 2003, the Rooney rule has been causing a stir. If you’re unfamiliar with this sporting directive, I can tell you that it has nothing to do with hair transplants or hoary whores:  it’s named not after Wayne, but Dan Rooney -- owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers American football team.

The long and short of the Rooney rule is that it forces NFL teams to interview minority candidates for vacant senior coaching opportunities.

Now, if you ask me, affirmative action stinks. If you want to grow anything – sporting success included – meritocracy is your best bet (take note, Mr. Cameron). And besides, it’s safe to say that, in any sport where approximately 60 percent of top-flight players are non-white, yet positive steps are still perceived as necessary in achieving equality when it comes to management, there are some issues with race lingering like a bad fart.

But, that said, last Sunday – ironically during America’s black history month – the New York Giants prevailed against the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLVI, much to the delight of their General Manager, Jerry Reese. Reese is no coach, of course, but he is now the owner of a proud piece of history having become the first black GM to take two teams to the Super Bowl, following the Giants’ victory in the very same fixture back in 2008.

Progress.

We Brits know a thing or two about progress in consigning racism to the dustbin of history when it comes to sport and particularly our own and, dare I say, better brand of football (apologies to our cousins the other side of the pond). But while our shoulder-padded cousins in the US of A put on a show like only the Americans know how last Sunday, we were (or at least should have been) a little red-faced following the fall-out of our own global sporting-spectacle that took place a few hours before: Chelsea vs. Manchester United.

 

A riveting game, that ended 3-3, was soured by persistent boos aimed at Rio Ferdinand by sections of the Chelsea support. Why did they boo him? Because he is a) related to and b) had spoken up for his brother, Anton Ferdinand who had previously had the chutzpah to take offence at allegedly being called a “f***ing black c**t” by Chelsea’s club captain, John Terry, back in October. How very dare he?

Now, it’d be hyperbole to suggest that we’re having to double-take to make sure we’re not watching premiership action from standing terraces, shoulder-to-shoulder with skin-heads in Doc Martens who are busy handing out British National Party (BNP) flyers while readying a bunch of bananas to throw on to the pitch at the approaching black player. This is 2012, not 1982, and we’ve come a long way.

Besides, I’m not seriously suggesting that thousands of Chelsea fans in attendance at Stamford Bridge are racists (though unfortunately, we have to accept that some probably are). Instead, I’d describe those events as a gross and misguided display of partisanship over prudence in response to alleged racism on the pitch, not in the stands.

The problem is, while these two events may have been swept under the carpet, they haven’t because they have been far from isolated. Quite simply, they have been bunched together with a series of other unsavoury goings-on over the past few months that, combined, have forced us to recalibrate our understanding of the social tensions underlying our national game.

For starters, we had the episode which featured former Liverpool and Aston Villa striker, Stan Collymore, being racially abused on Twitter and a 21 year-old man, Joshua Cryer, charged with "a Section Five racial public order offence and a Section Five public order offence" as a result.

You might simply point out that such an occurrence, no matter how distasteful, is simply an inevitable hazard of social media connecting so many disparate minds – ranging in terms of sanity – in one compact setting. And you might be right. But this doesn’t change events on the ground nor does it excuse what followed: yet more disgraceful racism tweeted at Collymore who has become something of a figurehead in the fight-back against the new breed of largely anonymous Twitterazis.

We’ve also seen the rather distressing sight of Oldham Athletic defender, Tom Adeyemi, reduced to tears -- quite visibly upset -- during their FA Cup clash with Liverpool, after allegedly being called a “f***ing black b*****d” by a lone member of the Liverpool home support.

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