Goal in a goalless match

THE political statement against racism by the England and Holland football teams in the recent friendly at Villa Park, Birmingham, has once again given hope that this proletariat sport will be reclaimed as the `beautiful game'.

THE political statement against racism by the England and Holland football teams in the recent friendly at Villa Park, Birmingham, has once again given hope that this proletariat sport will be reclaimed as the `beautiful game'. While England's red shirts had an anti-racism slogan in silver on the front and the `Kick It Out' badge on the sleeves, the Dutch team ditched their orange shirts for a black and white kit to lend support to the cause. (`Kick It Out' is the highly-influential Equal Opportunities programme launched in 1997 by Sport England, the Commission of Racial Equality, the FA and the Professional Footballers Association).

For the first time in 133 years of international football, the England kit carried on it something other than the three lions badge and the sponsor's logo. The anti-racist statement was all the more fitting because it was the first time that young Manchester City winger Shaun Wright-Phillips had started for England. It is a known fact that Phillips and England defender Ashley Cole were targeted for racist chanting by the crowd at Real Madrid's Bernabeu Stadium in a match between Spain and England last November which is so inappropriately labelled a `friendly' in official FIFA records. After the match, Spain's manager Luis Aragones said nothing about the crowd's behaviour. This was not a surprise from a person whose credentials are impeccable — earlier in the year he had racially abused France and Arsenal striker Thierry Henry. He continues to be in his position till date.

There is a view that England, France and Holland have done much more than their European neighbours in rooting out racist behaviour. But, that is saying nothing really in the age of minority rights, plural democracy and multiculturalism — in Spain, Portugal, Italy, Greece and in Germany, black international and club players are still barracked with monkey noises and banana peels! England defender Gary Neville, after the match against Holland, said that there was "no racism in England" and that cloth manufacturers such as Nike must not be allowed to hijack the slogan for their PR. This statement could compare with any of his or his brother Phil's famous defensive howlers in the European Nations Championship of 2000.

Neville and his ilk should well consider these facts: In 2001, the judge hearing the trial of Leeds United footballers Lee Bowyer and Jonathan Woodgate for assaulting a British Asian teenager cleared them of racial motives, which the victim alleged was the nature of attack on him. In 2003, the Islam phobia emanating from pubs and public spaces was shocking in the wake of the crucial Euro 2004 qualifier between Turkey and England, a match frayed with tempers. In 2004, television presenter Ron Atkinson called Chelsea defender Marcel Desailly `a thick lazy nigger' on air and lost his job. In 2004 again, Ofcom, the media watchdog demanded and got an apology from BSkyB when Frank McLintock, former Scotland player and Arsenal captain, used the word `nigger' during a live phone-in. English football needs strong anti-racist action and campaigns whether from civil society, the State, the governing body or the corporate world.

Racism, however, is not all about overt abuses. There is an institutional element to it, according to the McPherson Commission Report of 1999, which was set up by the British government to investigate the murder of black teenager Stephen Lawrence in London at the hands of the Metropolitan Police. The report is now used as a frame of reference in all public and private organisations in the UK (including national governing bodies of sport such as the ECB and the FA) to achieve racial equality.

The FA was recently caught off-side when it prepared a DVD of England's greatest players which did not feature a single non-white player. As Lord Herman Ouseley, the chairman of `Kick It Out', said about representation in a recent interview published on the Institute of Race Relations website, "We need to see more Black and Asian fans and Asian players. The boardrooms, the management teams and the merchandising side of the game are still very white." Ever since the inception of the Premiership in 1992, there have only been two managers (Ruud Gullit for Chelsea and Jean Tigana for Fulham) of colour. Though quarter of the players on the pitch in the Premiership are black or of mixed race, there is only one non-white in the boardroom of all the clubs and only two per cent of the management staff of the clubs and FA are non-white!

The activism of the Anti-Nazi League in the 1970s, 80s and 90s has helped get rid of the neo-Nazi British National Party and National Front workers in the various club grounds and also to set in place an official response to racism in football. It is time for this official anti-racist movement to ensure that there is equal representation of all communities in all aspects of English football.