Football Is Becoming Toxic

I watched the Liverpool-Tottenham Hotspur match last night. It was the first appearance of Luiz Saurez in eight games. He has now served his ban for racially abusing Patrice Evra of Manchester United.

Saurez is due to play against Manchester United in Manchester on Saturday. He may expect a hostile reception from 71,000 of the 76,000 crowd. Of course he is not a victim.

Patrice Evra was the victim and he got a hostile reception at Liverpool ten days ago. Shamefully Kenny Dalglish, the Liverpool head coach chose not to condemn the excessive booing. The fans pay to attend a match. Dalglish was booed during his own career. It is “normal”.

Likewise on Sunday Manchester United played Chelsea in London. John Terry the Chelsea player who faces criminal charges in a London court in July for allegedly abusing Anton Ferdinand (Queens Park Rangers) did not play thru injury but Rio Ferdinand played for Manchester United and was subject to booing every time he touched the ball. Rio Ferdinand is the brother of Anton.

In fairness Rio Ferdinand is very well followed on Twitter, the social networking site. And is on occasions controversial. It must be emphasised that he has not said anything prejudicial to John Terry’s upcoming trial. But the whole issue of Twitter and social networking sites is making the situation worse.

Simply put, people…… fans….are taking sides and not just along lines of  “football tribalism”. The issue of Race and racism is not far from the surface.

It is potentially toxic. The Liverpool-Tottenham Hotspur match was I thought ill-tempered. Tackles were harsh and there was occasional “afters” where players seemed slightly too happy at an opponent being injured.

There is no doubt that John Terry was genuinely injured when he missed the Chelsea-Manchester United match. But he was the elephant in the room…or pitch. Indeed the TV cameras often showed shots of him in the Chelsea crowd.

There had been some speculation that many or indeed all the Manchester United players would have a problem shaking John Terry’s hand in the pre-match ritual. Certainly it is unlikely that Rio Ferdinand would have done so.

John Terry is becoming increasingly isolated and even toxic…it is still five months until he appears in court …and there is a lot of stuff that can happen between now and then. England are also scheduled to be involved in “friendly” matches as they prepare for the European Championships in June.

Although stripped of the English captaincy, it is almost certain that John Terry will be selected for the European Championships. Rio Ferdinand has had some injuries this season and coming to the end of his career but he has played over eighty times for England and it remains possible that he will be a member of the England squad. And of course, Terry’s presence will be a challenge to his team mates….black and white…..who have been critical of him.

Race has never been far below the surface in the English game. And for at least a decade English Football has been congratualting itself on campaigns such as “Kick Racism Out”. It looks very premature now.

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2 Responses to Football Is Becoming Toxic

  1. Completely agree. This could be the top of a very slippery slope for English Football. I think the next few months could be crucial. We could witness numerous race related events or none at all, let’s hope it’s the latter. I’ve always been quite proud of how positive our approach to racism in the game has been. Certainly when comparing it to the likes of the continent, Spain and Italy in particular. Yet these few incidents have really made me think twice about whether what you’re saying is true, and that it’s all been boiling up underneath the surface. Great post nonetheless.

  2. Thank you.
    Certainly the attitude of Kenny Dalglish over the past few weeks has surprised and shocked me. Certainly he would have had experience of the vitriol of Celtic-Rangers games (I have also been at two such games) and he was particuarly subject to abuse as a boyhood Rangers fan who played for Celtic. Maybe he has a very thick skin or maybe its generational. The “Jumpers for Goalposts” Generation.
    A friend…a Liverpool supporter…was particuarly embarrassed by the Tshirt-Gate episode, an ill considered gesture of support for Saurez. Was it significant that Glen Johnson is the only black player in Liverpools first team squad. I hope not…….I think that the nature of football squads today is that people come and go (far too quickly!) and there will be times when black players are “over-represented” and “under-represented” as is the case with Liverpool at the moment.
    But I wonder if the dynamic would have been different had there been five or six black players in the Liverpool dressing room.
    Strides HAVE been made to wipe out Racism but I think theres a lot owed to all-seater stadia…….its now almost impossible for bad boys to gather en masse on the Stretford End, the Kop or the Shed. That made it easy for racists.
    Public attitudes and peer pressure as well as better stewarding and police surveillance make racist chanting almost impossible but I fear that the support for John Terry and the vitriol heaped on Anton and Rio Ferdinand as well as Patrice Evra is almost a form of “proxy racism”. Certainly theres an element of “football” tribalism but there is a growing sinister element.
    While black players are now a welcome feature of the game, black people are still under-represented in the stands……….or the boardrooms, or the press rooms or the FA Committee rooms.
    An anecdote. After England won the World Cup (1966), there was a new market for weekly football magazines. There was already “Charles Buchans Football Monthly” and “Jimmy Hills Football Weekly” started around 1966 and “Goal” (of blessed memory which later merged with “Shoot” which started later).
    But I recall the “letters” column in “Goal” which used to have a feature where readers would submit fantasy football teams based on (for example) players being called Green, Black, White, Brown etc……or (perhaps) Cook, Farmer, Fisher, Baker…….good fun…………
    But even as a teen I was a little uncomfortable with a team selected from four divisions made up of “black” players. For some peculiar reason I can only remember Cec Podd (Bradford City…..then probably in fourth division) but it probably included Clyde Best of West Ham and Albert Johansson (then probably Barnsley after leaving Leeds).
    The point of this recollection from about forty five years ago is that ……….it shows how rare black players were in mid 1960s…….but also the public perception where they were treated as a “novelty”.
    Either way ……the next few months could be very uncomfortable.

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