Racism rampant abroad

Despite the Terry-Ferdinand affair, racism in English football has been radically reduced. But it is all too evident abroad, even in a country such as Spain. By Brian Glanville.

The positive and reassuring fact is that racism in British football, especially by comparison with so many other countries, has hugely diminished over recent years. The sordid and demeaning case which brought John Terry, the defendant, and Anton Ferdinand, the presumed victim, into the Westminster Magistrates court was thank goodness, very much an exception that proved the rule. By something of an irony, it came hot on the heels of a European Championship tournament marred by the racism of bigoted supporters from Croatia, Russia and Poland. Though it was hard to take seriously the bland observation by Oleg Blokhin, manager and ex-star of the Ukrainian team, that there is no racism in his country’s football.

This, from a man notorious for splenetic and bigoted outbursts against the idea of black players figuring in Ukrainian clubs. There persists in my mind the image, before a 2006 World Cup match in Germany, of Blokhin, only weeks after one of those outbursts, standing untroubled alongside his team.

During an anti-racist ceremony, FIFA did nothing about it then and have done, like UEFA, nothing about his attitude more recently. And not for the first time, it should be emphasised that FIFA have happily given the 2018 World Cup to Russia, whose fans, from Moscow to St. Petersburg, are notoriously racist.

Dick Advocaat, the Dutch coach who had charge of the Russian team in the Europeans, but has now resigned, once admitted that when he was managing Zenit St. Petersburg, he didn’t dare to sign a black player.

Repugnant as it was, with its plethora of foul language, it seems plain enough that the Terry case should never have come to court. It did so only because an off duty policeman happened to view the incident, seemingly on television, and issued a complaint which supposedly and automatically, obliged the Metropolitan Police to take action, elbowing out of the way the Football Association which had previously dealt severely with the Luis Suarez-Patrice Evra affair.

You will remember that they found the Uruguayan star Suarez, guilty of insulting Evra by calling him, in Spanish, a negrito, meaning little negro, and suspended him for eight matches. Since the standards of proof in an FA disciplinary inquiry are not as rigorous as those of a criminal court it would have been easier for the FA committee to issue a definitive judgement than for the hapless magistrate at Westminster, who found Terry not guilty, on the evident grounds of ambiguity.

Terry insisted his catalogue of insults was merely a satirical restatement of what Anton Ferdinand had said. But it also emerged that there had been an element of provocation on the part of Anton Ferdinand himself, taunting Terry over his affair with someone else’s “Missus.” Then the somewhat confused reference being to the liaison Terry, a married man with children, had had with the French ex-girlfriend — not Missus, or wife — of Wayne Bridge, an England full-back. Yes, altogether a horrid affair, bur surely one which should never have taken on such costly and protracted ramifications. Wealthy QCs — Queen’s Counsel barristers — went through their routines for defence and prosecution at great length and expense. Yet even had the millionaire Terry, certainly no plaster saint in the past, been found guilty, the trivial punishment would have been a mere fine of GBP25,000, money which he could metaphorically have taken out of his back pocket.

Since then, the flames have been fanned by Anton’s older and more successful brother, Rio Ferdinand, accusing the England and Chelsea left-back Ashley Cole, who gave evidence in Terry’s favour, of being, in the words of a previous accuser, “a choc ice,” an insult meaning that someone is black on the outside but white inside.

Rio may well still be smarting from the fact that Roy Hodgson, the new England manager, took Terry but not himself to the EUROs; but given the animosity between the two centre-backs as a consequence of the impending trial — postponed for weeks on end — it would have been hard indeed to have chosen both of them. In the event Terry, who had disgraced himself when a moment of absurd violence had him sent off in Chelsea’s semifinal match against Barcelona at Nou Camp, was one of the pitifully few England players to come out of the EUROs with credit.

Years ago, the abysmal prejudice against black players in English football was not limited to abusive fans but also prevailed within the game itself. There were fatuous delusions that you’d never “see” a black player on a freezing night’s game in Middlesbrough. Black footballers, farcically, were said to be cowards! When a young black winger called Paul Canonville began to play for Chelsea, neo-Nazi fans on the Stamford Bridge terraces made his life hell. Nowadays, black players such as Didier Drogba and Ghana’s Michael Essien have become heroes at The Bridge.

Leading the campaign years back to combat such racism, I wrote a short story, ‘Black Magic’, which to my delight, was republished in the West Indian magazine, ‘The Voice’. It dealt with a gifted black player who turned the tables on the bigoted coach.

But while, despite the Terry-Ferdinand affair, racism in English football has been radically reduced, it is all too evident abroad, even in a country such as Spain where, not long ago, black English players were abused at an international in Madrid. Yet FIFA’s ‘Kick Out Racism’ campaign has been virtually and culpably abandoned.