A look back at one of the worst months for English football for a couple of seasons as racism is once again at the forefront of the headlines.
For fans of English football, November couldn’t have come quick enough. When I woke up on Thursday 1st, despite the green face paint everywhere following my Old Gregg Halloween antics and a sore head, I couldn’t help but smile. A torrid month for English football was over, and I was hoping the months events would finally be behind us now.
In terms of domestic football played, it was actually quite exciting; Arsenal’s heroics at Reading being an enthralling advert for the English brand, the triumvirate of Hazard, Oscar and Mata marauding through defences at will and several golazos to salivate over. Yet these have been unfortunately overshadowed by a problem seen by many as one we were finally conquering; racism.
Throughout England U21’s impressive victory away to Serbia, Tottenham Hotspur’s fullback Danny Rose was subjected to vile monkey chants by the home fans and pelted with missiles. And as if this wasn’t bad enough, he was then sent off after the final whistle, sparking a sickening mass brawl between both sets of players, coaches and even governing body representatives. But it didn’t end there. The Serbian FA and manager refused to apologise, and even had the audacity to blame England for the melee of players. But wait; there’s more! The Serbian police announced they will be pressing charges against Spurs defender Stephen Caulker and Blackpool’s hotshot winger Tom Ince – son of former-England player Paul Ince – for the affair.
Such scenes are almost unprecedented in the modern, European game, and rightly so it was condemned as barbaric and backwards by those in the media. Unfortunately, this is not the first time such things have happened when it comes to Serbia. Serbia’s current coach Sinisa Mihajlovic, once a successful Serie A defender, was banned for two games when playing for Lazio for racially abusing Arsenal’s Patrick Viera, and in 2007 the Serbian FA were fined £16,500 for fans racially abusing an U21 football team. Which team? Yes, you guessed it – England.
The lack of severe punishment and repeat of 2007’s events has angered the FA General Secretary Alex Horne, who said the events have made him “question the validity of sending a team to Serbia in the future”. For me, the solution is simple; docking points for tournament qualification or even the Serbia games being played without home supporters in “behind closed doors” will soon see the sections of the crowd committing the offences come to their senses.
Back in blighty, and only a few days after, John Terry chose not to appeal his guilty verdict and four-match ban, and more racism-based controversy occurred with Jason Roberts and Rio Ferdinand (amongst others) refusing to wear shirts supporting the anti-racism body Kick It Out. They did this partly because of what they deem as a lack of appropriate punishment handed out to John Terry and Luis Suarez, and in part because of Kick It Out’s lack of action in combating racism in football. Whilst it is easy to see their points of view, one has to sympathise with Kick It Out – Chairman of the group Lord Ouesely told the BBC that Roberts had exaggerated the power and influence Kick It Out has in English football, whilst adding that if they had sufficient power then the problems would have been sorted out. In a week where solidarity from one of English football’s most accomplished defenders in Rio Ferdinand and – well, Jason Roberts – could have sent a positive message to those overseas and strengthened support for Kick It Out, quite the opposite happened and support for Kick It Out was alienated – it leaves you wondering if Kick It Out couldn’t eradicate racism with support before the shirt boycott, how are they expected to do it now with less support? Perhaps they would have been more successful in attacking Sepp Blatter – after all, he’s the one encouraging players to shake the offender’s hand if they are racially aggravated (think Cameron’s “Hug a Hoodie”, but even more idiotic), or Rio could have even protested against the Football Association – the ones with the real power to curb racism (I was going to suggest him retiring from the England team, however that may actually be a blessing in disguise).
Then, to top it all off, referee Mark Clattenberg is facing allegations of the use of racist language towards Chelsea footballer (a term used loosely) John Obi Mikel. Whilst I hope and believe this isn’t true, I can’t help but feel sorry for Clattenberg. I too was once accused of being racist and I remember it like it was yesterday; Year 5 at my primary school and my after school theatre friends and I were taking part in a showcase where other schools would perform, and one child from another school accused me of saying “Eurgh, look at that black boy”. It was a ludicrous and totally unfounded claim (my best friend at the time was Brazilian, I was in a “relationship” with a Spanish girl and I idolised Olivier Dacourt) yet it was a scary time for me as a 10-year old boy. Okay, so my career wasn’t on the line but I still cried my eyes out to my mother and never maintained the friendship with my Brazilian friend merely because I was associated with such an offence (or maybe because I stole his PlayStation game, I’m not really sure). But the point remains; allegations of this nature are serious, and I can only hope Mikel heard Clattenberg clearly, but with other referees and managers including Neil Warnock and Alex Ferguson defending him and offering a testimony of his character coupled with Clattenberg’s professionalism, for once I’m siding with the referees.
So you can see why I’m so glad to welcome in November. I hope that for as long as I live I don’t see another month and racially-charged as October was; at the end of the day, football is a game for everyone, and beneath our skin we’ve still got the same gooey organs regardless of what’s going on above it Here’s to hoping football in the future is a tool that brings us all together, rather than driving us apart – after all, 203 nations applied to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, but there are only 192 member states in the United Nations – and to hope racism will one day be eradicated from the sport.
Author: Kyle Hulme