• Sat. Dec 2nd, 2023

Racism in football emerges again as Chelsea fans are investigated

ByRob Lownie

Feb 19, 2019

New year, same old story. UEFA are currently investigating alleged anti-Semitic chants directed at Tottenham fans, made by Chelsea supporters in their Europa League game against Hungarian side MOL Vidi on the 13 December. Five days earlier, similar accusations were levelled against Chelsea fans, this time for racially abusing Manchester City player Raheem Sterling in the fixture between the two sides.

This is not just about Chelsea, as a club, being racist. At the time of writing, they fielded four black players in their most recent match. The team’s owner, Roman Abramovich, is Jewish. The chairman, Bruce Buck, has acted swiftly to denounce the offenders and has vowed to improve the club’s record regarding racial abuse from fans. The vast majority of the support base hold discriminatory views: from my seat in the stadium’s lower East Stand, I have heard an ugly polyphony of jibes directed towards dodgy referees, diving opponents and lukewarm pies, but never racial epithets.

So, it is in football as a whole, where a vocal, hateful minority give the rest of us a bad name. The sphere of football, for all the money and power and influence that throbs within its veins, is not a monolith. Football is not racist, but elements of society are, and the sport serves as a billion-dollar mirror for the ugly world that encases it.

With the ubiquity of social media, it is easier than ever to spew hatred online, all whilst hiding behind a veil of anonymity. In the 1980s, racism was commonplace on the terraces, and we have improved in some ways since those less enlightened times, but discrimination has found a new resting place in the more nebulous depths of the internet.

On recent evidence, it also remains in the stands, but how do you identify a racist before they enter a venue? They look like you and they look like me: knives can be confiscated at the ticket barrier but hate cannot.

We’ve covered overt racism, shouty racism, easy-to-prosecute racism, but what about the more insidious forms of discrimination in the game? The appointment of former England international Sol Campbell as Macclesfield manager has brought the number of BAME managers in the Football League to eight.

That’s eight out of 92.

Campbell was in the same England team as Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard and the Neville brothers, yet they have started their managerial careers higher up the football pyramid. Campbell’s tenure will be scrutinised not just because of his success as player, but also because he is one of a minority that is far too small in a supposedly progressive age. We can only stop talking about ‘black managers’ and ‘white managers’ when we have some degree of equality.

American Football has led the way in improving this disparity by introducing the Rooney Rule, where at least one BAME applicant must be interviewed for each coaching role. The FA has applied the rule to their selection of coaches within the set-up of the England national team, but it is not yet commonplace in British football.

Former black players Titus Bramble and Kieron Dyer have dismissed the initiative as mere tokenism, saying that minority candidates should be receiving jobs on merit, not based on their skin colour. This, however, is to suggest that the black candidate will always get the job under the Rooney Rule, regardless of qualifications. This is not necessarily the case, and having a BAME candidate interviewed allows them to be represented in the discussion, and then put forward their credentials to fairly earn a position.

There is one form of racism that is less vitriolic than the verbal abuse of individuals and less institutionalised than the potential hesitancy for teams to hire black coaches, but which is altogether more frightening, if only for the way that it has too often gone under the radar. Media bias against black footballers, whether conscious or unconscious, is another stain on a blemished game.

The world of tabloid news, where civilisation is under threat from Muslims and paedophiles and sometimes a terrible hybrid of the two, has found easy targets in the likes of Raheem Sterling and Paul Pogba – rich, talented and empowered young black men. Sterling has bravely spoken out against racism in the media, citing the different ways in which the same newspaper reported two young Manchester City players, one black and one white, buying expensive houses for their mothers. Sterling is, however, a rare critic of a morally questionable style of reporting.

There are anti-racism organisations funded by the Premier League and FA, such as Kick It Out and Show Racism the Red Card, but this funding is currently woefully insufficient. The Premier League last year gave £280,000 to Kick It Out. Great, except that amount constitutes less than 0.01 per cent of the revenue from the league’s most recent television deal.

The Premier League’s departing chief executive, Richard Scudamore, is receiving a five million pound farewell bonus. Kick It Out’s chairman Herman Ouseley, also leaving at the end of the year, has never received a penny in wages for over a quarter of a century of tireless work.

The big dogs of British football have released countless statements denouncing racism in football, yet spend more money filling one another’s already-heaving accounts than they do on anti-discrimination charities. More funds must be deployed, and more action must be taken.

Just because racist incidents are more commonplace in the Italian and Russian leagues does not give us the chance to ignore the injustices taking place in British football right now. The paucity of BAME managers here may not be the most pressing issue facing the FA, but it is representative of a wider problem. Far more disturbing is the behaviour of certain individuals, abhorrent voices in an ordinary crowd.

Fans who racially abuse footballers must be dealt with more severely, and the backstops with Scudamore and the back-scratching plutocracy that forms British football’s high command.

With its platform and global influence, the Premier League finds itself in a unique position to instigate greater change.


Image: Kamran Hussain

By Rob Lownie


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