It’s an unusual position, to be in agreement with Stan Collymore, but this is that red letter day. Following another weekend where racism in football raised its odious head in a string of games, Collymore noted that Britain has regressed to the way it was in the 1970s.
That’s perhaps a slight, but wholly understandable, overstatement, for, in football grounds at least, we have yet to see the return to times when 5,000 at one would be chanting racial abuse at players. Instead, it is, at present, restricted to pathetic individuals but nonetheless, Collymore’s point is a sound one for within society, there is a move towards the polarisation that disfigured the 1970s.
Team Talk with Dave Bowler
Back then, you had mainstream politicians whipping up frenzy with forecasts that immigration would lead to “rivers of blood”, sensationalist lies that played to the right wing. Football grounds then became recruiting grounds for the National Front and similar fascist loons looking to put the Great back into Britain again. Plus ça change as they might say today if they weren’t so rampantly xenophobic…
Immigration is back on the agenda again in the wake of Brexit, albeit from different areas of the world this time, but that referendum wasn’t so much a vote as an opening of Pandora’s box, emboldening the racists to say the things they’ve been too ashamed to say for 20 years or more now. But now they’re back and this time they’ve got Twitter and Facebook to help them organise and spread their poison.
We’re back in a world where knuckle scraping Neanderthals think it’s fine to throw bananas at black footballers. Where they can call Muslim footballers “shoe-bombers” and they pretend it’s just “banter”. One where they can film themselves screaming racist abuse as a player takes a penalty and then think it’s fine to upload that to Twitter – have you had him delivered into the hands of the police yet @Jack? Where they can scream their mouth frothing bile at black players and think it’s ok.
One of those on the receiving end at the weekend, Raheem Sterling, said he could only laugh at it, that it’s no more than he expects from some people. But he went a bit further than that on his Instagram feed, and quite rightly. Sterling pointed in the direction of the elephant in the room, the one that never takes responsibility yet feeds more of this savagery than anything. The newspapers.
He did it by pointing out the difference between two Manchester City youngsters who he knows well. When Phil Foden, an up and comer who has barely played, bought a mansion for his mother, he was doing the right thing and securing his future.
When Tosin Adarabioyo did precisely the same thing, it was a terrible indictment on society that a lad who had never played in the Premier League should do such a thing, conspicuously spending money he hadn’t earned. I’ll let you work out the respective skin colours of Foden and Adarabioyo.
Sterling knows what he’s talking about, having been on the receiving end of the Fourth Estate’s double standards, attacked for anything and everything they can think of. I don’t know Raheem Sterling, other than as a footballer.
I don’t know if he’s a good bloke, a brat, a tireless donator to charity or somebody who lights cigarettes with five pound notes. But I do know that that is a) his own business and b) nothing to do with his skin colour. Saints and sinners, losers and winners, diligent and feckless, they claim their numbers from every race, religion, creed, orientation, nationality. None has a monopoly on the good nor the bad. But the media would like you to think they do.
Now that racism is back, British football is at a crossroads, just like the country. What used to be called the “English disease” of racist football violence looks to be edging back centre stage and that simply cannot be allowed, not now, not after so much progress has been made.
The softly, softly approach isn’t going to do any longer. It’s time for one strike and you’re out. Anybody found to be racially abusing anyone – or being sexist or homophobic – they’re finished. Life ban. It is not acceptable, not under any circumstances, not at any time. We should get medieval on their asses.
And the same should go for our newspapers. Tyrone Mings has started by refusing to talk to radio station TalkSport after the way they responded to Sterling’s comments. But will we see that starting a trend? Football only reflects society and, with a Prime Minister who is desperately using immigration as a political football to try and hold her career together, it’s hard to be optimistic isn’t it?