Some of the four-year long build up to the European Championships held this year in Poland and Ukraine has focused on the racist abuse black players might receive at the hands of East European fans. In the Champions League and Europa Cup, we’ve seen black players from British teams being racially abused in ways that we haven’t seen in the British Leagues since the 1980s. This has mainly happened in East European countries, although a few times in Spain. We had been proud of our record in managing to kick a lot of the overt elements of racism out of our game. It was no longer deemed acceptable to make monkey noises or throw bananas on the pitch.
But this season has seen racism rear its ugly head not only off the pitch but also on the pitch. The long campaign to kick racism out of footballer seems to have undermined, mainly by two instances on the pitch. The racist abuse of Patrice Evra by Luis Suarez and the alleged racist abuse of Anton Ferdinand by John Terry. Luis Suarez has already been found guilty by the FA and is currently serving a nine match ban. The allegations against John Terry are still being investigated by the police.
The fans of each club have fervently jumped to the defence of their players. In the case of Luis Suarez, it’s a cultural misunderstanding. In Uruguay, the word ‘negro’ is fine to hurl at a black player. I’ve had this argument several times over Twitter with Liverpool fans. The only argument I seem to have heard so far from Chelsea fans is that John Terry is a ‘legend’, although this doesn’t mean he cannot be racist at the same time.
We now have the situation where fans of both clubs have been accused of racist abuse whether it be the racist chanting that allegedly took place on a train back from Norwich from Chelsea fans or the racist abuse that police are currently questioning a man about after yesterday’s Liverpool v Man Utd match. Racism seems to firmly be back in the public spotlight and from our own fans, something we are meant to have stamped out.
I lay some of the blame with both Liverpool and Chelsea football clubs. They have vehemently defended their players accused. I understand that you have to back your players and that you have to show support in them but I don’t understand trivalising racism to do so. The Suarez t-shirts worn by the Liverpool players were frankly disturbing. It seemed to give off the message that it’s ok for a player to racially abuse another because he’s one of ours.
The argument that a lot of Liverpool fans have used to me is that Suarez didn’t realise that it was racist to say ‘negro’ to Evra. If that is the case then don’t try and play it off as ok. Back the Professional Footballer’s Association new scheme to teach foreign players coming into the English leagues what constitutes as racism here. That way racism is continued to be treated seriously. Don’t boo the player who was the victim just because he plays for Man Utd and therefore, somehow, deserved it.
At Anfield yesterday, the atmosphere was so poisonous that BBC Radio 5 were actively hoping that there wouldn’t be a replay. Normally, football pundits would love to see high profile matches played as many times as allowed. It’s a disturbing state of affairs when football becomes so tribalised that it becomes acceptable for racism to take place on the field if by one of your players. It then spreads the message to your fans racism will be tolerated We cannot allow this to continue.