Kicking out racism

Chelsea captain John Terry's alleged racial abuse of QPR's Anton Ferdinand has taken English football by storm.-AP

Racism is still rampant in modern football. And it's hard to believe that both FIFA and UEFA have both turned their back on anti racism crusades. At least in English soccer, it is taken seriously. Over to Brian Glanville.

“Out of evil cometh good.” Well, sometimes. And I can just about see some positive possibilities in the generally squalid and nasty affair of John Terry, Anton Ferdinand and that the insults that never were or might have so despicably been, if only the evidence were clear. For those of you still blessedly unaware of the rancid incident, John Terry, captain and centre back of England and Chelsea, has been accused of a gross racist diatribe at Queens Park Rangers' equivalent defender Anton Ferdinand, younger brother of Rio, during the recent match at QPR which a Chelsea team reduced to nine men succeeded in losing 1-0. John Terry himself does not deny he used the utterly cross words, “blanking black blank” at Ferdinand during the game but insists that — surely a same old story — that they were taken out of context.

According to Terry, the context was that he was denying having made any kind of racist assault on Ferdinand and that he was simply in the process of denying it! Ferdinand himself says that he heard nothing, and there seems to be no direct evidence from close by players of both sides and even the infinity of footage taken by Sky TV. Ferdinand however insists that he has “strong feelings on the matter.”

Meanwhile the Football Association have lumbered into it and are investigating. So somewhat unexpectedly are the Metropolitan Police since, so far as I know, racist abuse however disgusting is not an actual criminal offence in Great Britain.

So what's good about it all? Simply I suggest that the matter is being taken so seriously. It wasn't so many years ago that I found myself pretty well alone among senior English soccer correspondents in defending black footballers and deploring the way they were being treated both by clubs and spectators. I even wrote a short story satirising these prejudices. It was called “Black Magic” and concerned a talented young black player derided by his coach who flourished when transferred and ran the defenders of his old club ragged when he came to play against them. It appeared in a London evening paper and to my huge satisfaction it was reprinted in the ‘Voice', the magazine of West Indian London. I duly for my pains, received a death threat from some wretched little neo-Nazi English group.

Back in those remote days the prejudice against black players was almost primeval. We were told that you'd never see them on a cold winter night in Middlesbrough. A vile section of Chelsea's fans, alias The Headhunters, poured out ineffably vicious abuse at a hapless young winger called Paul Canoville whose career foundered in consequence. Seemingly genial club coaches were known to speak with bitter scorn of how they had treated young black players injured in training; not lest poor souls if they happened to cry for their mother. I kid you not.

And even when a fine black centre half and a good friend of mine Paul Elliott, previously with Charlton, Luton and Italy's Pisa — where he flourished — came to play for Glasgow Celtic, he found himself subjected in a match at Celtic Park against Hearts of Edinburgh to revolting chorused insults from the visiting supporters. So much so that the decent captain of Hearts, Robertson, was moved to go over to the touchline to remonstrate with them.

Things have greatly improved with the influx of fine black players from abroad. Chelsea fans, who still have their malevolent fringe group, would hardly want to malign the likes of Didier Drogba, Nicolas Anelka or Brazil's Ramires.

With the Metropolitan Police abruptly elbowing the FA aside, and seemingly all because of a complaint from one television viewer, the Terry-Ferdinand affair had taken on increasingly bewildering and even hyperbolic dimensions. I would suggest that its true significance lies well beyond whether Ferdinand was insulted. Surely the whole contretemps at least shows how seriously racism is taken by English football where it is wantonly ignored elsewhere. Thus, Russia have been contentiously awarded the 2018 World Cup though their football is permeated with unchecked racism. One of the most abysmal recent case being that of the accomplished Nigerian striker Peter Odemwingie forced out of Lokomotiv Moscow by their shockingly biased fans. Who actually put up a large insulting poster thanking West Bromwich Albion for taking him away. FIFA's so called, loudly trumpeted, Kick Out Racism campaign goes for nothing. And what of the way black English players were crudely abused playing in Sofia recently against Bulgaria? While not long since fans in Madrid's Bernabeau stadium grossly insulted black England players, facing Spain.

Hard to forget how during the 2006 World Cup finals, Oleg Blokhin, iconic manager and ex-winger of Ukraine, stood coolly alongside his men before kick-off of a match preceded by an anti-racism parade. Blokhin having, only weeks earlier, launched a bitter attack on the use of black players in Ukrainian football. Hard to believe that both FIFA and UEFA have both turned their back on anti racism crusades. At least in English soccer, it is taken seriously.