Like many people, I was stunned and amazed by FIFA president Sepp Blatters’ recent comments regarding racism and the fact that it can be addressed with a simple handshake. Although I certainly look forward to employing a ‘high-five officer?’ type defence the next time I’m being done for speeding.
However, whilst like most right-minded football fans I long for the day when the bumbling old bastard is finally levered from the gravy train that we are busy fuelling, I am slightly bemused by the holier-than-thou attitude that has been adopted by certain elements within the English game in recent days.
Don’t get me wrong, I totally support the stance being taken by some of the players and officials who are speaking out against Blatter but the question nagging at me is why were those same voices so silent on the subject of John Terry?
After all, everyone knows Sepp is a bit of a fool and by his words has undoubtedly set back any notion that FIFA is seriously interested in the issue of racism. But the issue of Terry is in many ways far more serious because as I wrote last week, there is a great deal more at stake.
Since the dark days of the 80’s no footballing nation has been as vocal in its condemnation of racism within the game than England. By our actions we have earned the right to stand firm and just on the moral high-ground and that has given us the right to speak out against racism in nations from Spain to Russia and in not one case have they been able to throw anything back at us.
Yet now they can.
Forget the notion of innocent until proven guilty, by allowing an alleged racist to lead the national side against Sweden the FA have undermined both the severity of the problem and our stance on racism with the result that our integrity has been damaged. And it could get even worse because we now face the very real possibility of the current England captain being a convicted racist. That would remove at a stroke our right to preach to anybody about racism ever again. And without us on that moral high-ground, it’s a bleak and above all empty place.
Did no one in the hallowed halls of the Football Association consider that? Was a meaningless friendly really worth what they have done?
But equally, why didn’t those players who are now being so vocal about Blatter speak out then? They’re not stupid, they must have realised the possible implications involved with his selection.
The only answer of course is that they were afraid. No one likes a grass do they especially when the guy involved is one of your own. That’s not a problem they have with Sepp of course, because everyone hates him right?
Yet Anton Ferdinand is also one of their own and he deserves better from his peers as does every black player from Clyde Best and Paul Canonville through to the 8 year old on Hackney Marshes and they didn’t get it when they needed it the most. That’s beyond shameful.
Racism continues to be one of the great evils of the modern game and has to be confronted at all levels and at every opportunity. But to quote the Irish politician and orator Edmund Burke, ‘All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing’.
That says an awful lot about what has (and has not) been going on in recent weeks.
The other day I sat down at my laptop determined to write a long and rambling blog.
I had the subject matter all sorted in my head, the rough text I wanted to write, the tone I wanted to use and even the conclusion I wanted to reach. Unusually for me (sic) I had even done some research and had various quotations cut, pasted and highlighted in yellow at the top of the blank page ready to be used as and when I needed them.
Even as I sat down, I knew this was going to be a controversial read of the type for which blogging was invented. It is after all the perfect tool for those of us who are keen to get our opinions out into the public domain but who are not clever or lucky enough to have a newspaper or magazine column through which to do it. But then, as I prepared to construct the perfect opening line, it happened. A little ‘ding’ went off in my right ear. Well it’s not actually a little ding. If you’ve ever heard an old fashioned typewriter as the rail nears the end of the page, that’s what I hear.
And it’s always my right ear. I don’t know why as it’s actually the weaker of my two ears, but this is a largely irrelevant point. The important point is that the ding is a warning. A warning that I’m either about to write or say something which either I shouldn’t say at all or which I need to consider very, very carefully.
Quite why this happens is a mystery but be it sixth sense, guardian angel or simply something which happens with old(er) age, as someone who is prone to letting their opinions get the better of them, I’m bloody glad it does. It has certainly saved me from dropping myself in serious shit on more than one occasion.
Not because I don’t necessarily subscribe to whatever it is I was/am about to write, but because I have learnt the hard way that in these politically correct times there are lines one should be wary of crossing. If the media fascists can bring down fabulous (if contentious) radio journalists like Jon Gaunt and James Whale for making on-air statements which ‘they’ considered unacceptable, just think what they could do to someone like me who barely registers on the media radar yet is still has a desire to make an impact with a wider audience.
Make no mistake, it’s incredibly difficult to forge a career in the media but it’s the easiest thing in the world to kill one.
It could of course, be argued that this is cowardly. And that maybe, as someone who is known for having what could be considered controversial opinions about certain subjects I should actually be more forthright in the things I have to say. After all, as anyone who has ever read one of my books will know I’ve never really been that concerned about what people think of me and I’m more than happy to debate my opinions when challenged. Furthermore, like it or not I do have a profile of sorts and for some reason there seems to be plenty of people interested in the things I have to say. Some would even argue that as a writer, I have a duty to the people who have purchased any of my books and who have subscribed to some of the opinions I have put into print, to drive forward and help right some of the things I complain so vehemently against.
To be honest, I have a lot of sympathy with that. In my book Rebellion I made the point that I was humbled by the passion shown by some of the people I’d featured in that book, inspired as they had been, to battle an injustice. And let’s face it, there are more than enough issues impacting on football never mind our once glorious country which demand a response. Not a response from someone mindful of their profile or their career, but from someone who merely has something to say and feels the need to say it. Which brings me back to the matter of the aforementioned ding.
You see reading back over my notes, I can see why I need to be wary but a big part of me is also saying ‘fuck it. Just write it and be damned’. And for once, whilst I’m going to give it nod of thanks, I’m going to disregard the ding and dive straight in.
I have, in the past and on more occasions than I care to remember, been accused of being racist. Often theses accusations will be based simply on the fact that I have a shaved head, am fat and follow football. Three things which make me the stereotypical right-wing thug so beloved of the media. Others factor in the fact that I write about hooliganism, have written about the extreme right-wing or am a fan of Lady Thatcher and a lifelong Tory voter (not any more mind, but that’s another story) to reinforce the notion that my politics are firmly in the neo-Nazi camp.
This is of course, total bollocks and I’m not even going to waste the battery on my laptop trying to defend myself because I don’t need to. If you need to know where I sit in the political arena and especially with regard to racism, read my book Kicking Off because it’s all in there.
The problem is that for many people the fear of being accused of holding racist views is a fear too far and even being linked with someone who might is regarded as a high risk (ask Ron Atkinson). Equally, Like all fascists (and that is what they are as far as I’m concerned) the supposed anti-fascist brigade know that fear is their greatest weapon and the racism accusation card is the H-Bomb in their arsenal. One they are quite happy to throw around seemingly willy-nilly because they know that no one would dare challenge them.
The consequence of this of course, is that it stifles debate which is undoubtedly the whole idea. However, whilst researching both my book ‘Kicking Off’ and the forthcoming movie about Afghanistan, I encountered vicious racism aimed at the black community from within the black community, even more aimed at Muslims from Sikh’s (and visa versa!) and plenty aimed from within pretty much every ethnic group directed at us ‘white’ folk yet we rarely if ever hear of that in the mainstream media. Does that make it any less illegal? Of course not. So how can it be allowed to continue?
The authorities, the media and especially the anti-racism brigade would argue that this is not the case but this is clearly untrue and we’ve recently had as cast iron proof as you can possibly get.
Consider this; an England player is sitting at Wembley during an international fixture and tweets a ‘joke’ about the visiting fans and the idea that the game is actually an immigration trap and the stadium is surrounded by officers who are ready to sweep up anyone who shouldn’t be in the country after the game. When he is challenged, he complains that it was merely a ‘joke’ and that people should have a sense of humour.
Now, suppose said ‘joke’ had been tweeted by Wayne Rooney for example. Can you imagine the reaction? The press would have gone apoplectic whilst the anti-racism and anti-fascist groups would have been screaming for his head. And quite rightly too.
But supposing the ‘joke’ had been tweeted by one of England’s black players. Should the reaction be any different? Of course it shouldn’t, but it was. For this is exactly what the odious Carlton Cole (and there’s a bloke you wouldn’t want your daughter bringing home!) did during the game against Ghana.
Fair play to the FA (and there’s a sentence I never thought I would write) who immediately hit Cole with a charge of improper conduct but where was the clamour for his head in the press? Where were the usual rabid statements from ‘Kick Racism out of football’ or the various organisations who only recently were all over the press screaming blue murder because there have been no ethnic minorities in ‘Midsummer Murders’ or salivating at the realisation that Zenit St Petersburg have never signed a black player?
They were nowhere, that’s where and that was totally and utterly wrong. Racism is abhorrent in all its forms but guilt is not the sole preserve of the Anglo-Saxon community and if you are genuinely serious about combating it then that simple statement has to be fundamental to your approach because until it is, not only can you never actually solve it but you have absolutely no right to preach to anyone else about how they act and what they do in their own country.
If ever there was a subject about which this country needs a free and open debate it is the issue of racism. For until we have that debate, we cannot possibly have a level playing field and that is all anyone really wants. It’s also what this country desperately needs because until every citizen irrespective of colour, religion or background feels confident that should they have cause for a race related complaint then it will be treated fairly, justly and equally, all you are doing is storing up more and more resentment and an increasing sense of unfairness and intolerance. The sad reality of that is that such feelings can and do only ever lead in one direction. Toward the right.
And who in their right mind would want that.
Kicking Off, how hooliganism and racism are killing football, is available via amazon. Just click right here.