Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word: Why Can’t We Just Kick It Out?- Ben Wells
February 10, 2012
Taking in the coverage of events off-the-pitch in English football in the past two months, one could be forgiven for thinking we’d somehow wound the clock back to 1988. Following on from Sepp Blatter’s assertion that racist abuse between players should be resolved with a handshake at the end of a game, England – which has led the world game in tackling racism within the sport – has been mired in two major controversies that will just not go away.
The most surprising things about Blatter’s comments was that it stirred most of the civilised world into forcing him into publishing an apology. The English FA has ruffled many feathers in taking other countries to task over their records on racism. Many nations perceive the English stance to be sanctimonious, but, until now, the FA has led on this issue from a position of strength. It has worked tirelessly (and must be congratulated) for the work it has done with Government, NGOs and other bodies, yet it seems that perhaps our game is not as shot of this disease as we had hoped.
I am not for one second suggesting that these two cases (Luis Suarez and John Terry, in case you didn’t know) should lead to a session of self-flagellation, but they have raised some interesting issues.
Tainting the Club’s Brand Image
When Manchester United visited Anfield for the first time since the Suarez affair, one banner in the away end read “MUFC, defending titles. LFC, defending racism”. Liverpool has done sterling work in combatting racism yet the way it has approached the Suarez case seriously risks undoing all that good work. No-one seriously thinks racism is an endemic problem at Anfield, yet the way the manager, Kenny Dalglish, has been allowed free rein continually to dig a deeper hole betrays a lack of control of the club’s hierarchy over someone whom many Liverpool fans regards as a messiah. Sorry seems to be the hardest word at Anfield, but that simple word, instead of Dalglish’s belligerent comments would have done the club a lot of credit. Dalglish will point to the galvanising effect he believes his actions are having on team spirit, but his bosses need to explain the seriousness of this issue and to point out there is a bigger picture.
Innocent Until Proven Guilty
The decision by the (English) FA to strip John Terry of the England captaincy has been debated long and hard in the Twittersphere and beyond. For what it’s worth, I don’t believe he should have been reinstated as captain after having lost it the first time around as whether for right or wrong, the captaincy is seen as a major accolade and the holder of the office should be worthy of it. Perhaps only the most one-eyed Chelsea fan would argue that Terry fits that criterion. The argument is that Terry has not been convicted of any charge and, consequently, should not be pre-judged. There is some merit to that argument, yet I fully support the argument that (regardless of the divisive effect Terry may have on the playing squad) to go to Euro 2012 and to be led out by a captain with such a cloud hanging over him sends out completely the wrong message. There is a bigger picture to consider and the FA has just about got this one right.
I’ve been going to matches in England for nearly 30 years. I would be lying if I said I’d never experienced racism in that time (I stopped going to watch England precisely because of this reason, incidentally), but the incidents at club level have been few and far between, especially in recent years.
Since the Suarez and Terry incidents, we’ve had Chelsea fans singing songs about Anton Ferdinand (and booing his brother at the recent Chelsea – Manchester United game), Liverpool fans booing Patrice Evra (and one fan arrested for allegedly making monkey gestures at him), a Manchester United fan for allegedly making racist comments, and at the recent Liverpool – Tottenham game, a gentleman with the words ‘Mr NEGRITO’ printed on the back of his replica shirt.
I can only assume this “fan” believes he is doing the right thing in supporting his player.
English football should be proud of the work it has done in trying to eradicate what is ultimately a social disease. The influx of foreign players into the game and the multi-cultural composition of most teams has served a genuine social service in educating football fans. The sport must remember – as must its leading protagonists – the role it plays in today’s mass media society. Tribal rivalries and petty grudges must be put to one side for the greater good. Time for us all to grow up.
Ben has fifteen years’ experience in the commercial side of sport. Having spent six years at Chelsea FC, where he was Head of Marketing, Ben launched Ishtar Consulting in 2011 with a view to providing specialist sponsorship and marketing support to brands, rightsholders and agencies. Prior to his time at Chelsea Ben spent nearly four years at Redmandarin, the strategic sponsorship consultancy. Follow Ben on Twitter @ben_wells1 or get in touch via firstname.lastname@example.org. This Blog appears regularly at http://benwells1.blogspot.com