Over the last couple of weeks or so, the Premier League has become gripped by a weird frenzy. It started with the accusations made by Patrice Evra towards Luiz Suarez in the aftermath of the 1-1 draw between Liverpool and Manchester United, and has reached a crescendo as we await the results of the police investigation into similar accusations made after the match between Queens Park Rangers and Chelsea a couple of weeks ago. It is, of course, racism that we are speaking of. Or it would be, were it not for the lingering suspicion that quite a lot of the white noise that has been threatening to deafen anybody that dares to peek into the weird, tribal world of the Premier League may not necessarily be about the issue of racism at all.
So, to make things absolutely clear, there is no place for racism in modern football. We all surely know this already, to the extent that having to make such a statement seems almost superfluous. That it does need to be made in the interests of clarity says a lot about the low quality of the debate on the subject of racism over the last couple of weeks or so. At every point that we might start to think that the level of conversation on the subject has finally bottomed out, something else has come along which has only served to sink the heart still lower. Earlier this week, it was Chelsea supporters singing the possibly deliberately cryptic, “Anton Ferdinand, you know what you are” in Belgium earlier this week. Today it was the arrest of two youths over racist tweets sent to the Newcastle United forward Sammy Ameobi.
The John Terry racism affair has come to hog the headlines in a way that is unseemly, and the behaviour of those Chelsea supporters that were singing to Anton Ferdinand on Tuesday night summed up the level of the debate that has been circling on forums, messageboards and social media sites. One side of the debate would have it that there is no conceivable way that Terry might have aimed a racial slur at Ferdinand. The other would have it that Terry is definitely a racist on the basis of their preconception of him, the fact that he playss for Chelsea or whatever.
The main problem with all of this is that ninety per cent of those involved in the debate made their minds up the moment that the story broke ten days ago, and have since then been tailoring whatever scraps of news that have been coming along to suit their perception of him. On this site last week, we iterated that the only sensible course of action with regard to the claims made would be to wait for the results of the police investigation and any subsequent investigation. The football world seems, however, to have been singularly unable to do this.
The Sammy Ameobi situation is similarly depressing. To try and understand why somebody would find the time to send racist messages to a black footballer would be a waste of time. It is to be hoped that the law teaches them a lesson that they will not readily accept. In a similar vein, the former player Stan Collymore has been retweeting much of the abuse that he has been receiving this week. Some of the comments have been shocking, whilst others have merely been stupid. Collymore, for what it is worth, is emerging from this particular stramash with considerable credit. He is one of the few that has, in recent weeks.
All of this brings us back to the overall issue of race and football. The last few weeks or so have felt like a genie escaping from a bottle. Anybody that ever overhears conversation in public places will already be fully aware that Britain isn’t the multicultural melting pot that we might like, in more optimistic moments, to think that it is. It has long felt as if there are many millions of people in Britain with unsavoury beliefs, who merely don’t express them because they know what sort of reaction they would get if they did. The last few weeks have seen some people seemingly unable to keep a lid on it any more.
Set against this sort of background, the timbre of debate regarding the Terry-Ferdinand affair has been all the more depressing. The only route for the Premier League and the FA is to continue along the path that they have been following. They must continue to resist those that would seek to undermine efforts to thwart racism within football, and each allegation must be treated as being of the utmost importance. The day that a scurrilous claim is made – and confirmed, beyond any doubt, that it was scurrilous – will be a dark day for the game, but what would be even worse would be if any scurrilous claim made led to any future investigations of this nature being watered down.
There is nothing to say that any of the claims made in recent weeks have been scurrilous. That much is certain, and there is little else that we can be certain of at present on this subject. What we have seen is a debate on a very serious subject used by some as an excuse to fuel preconceptions of all sorts, and it is unlikely that this will die down any time soon. It also seems unlikely that, no matter what happens regarding the investigations that are currently being carried out, a “satisfactory” result will not, for some, be received, and therein lays the rub of this most dispiriting of debates. Minds, it feels, have already been made up and minds can be very difficult to be unmade. We may be waiting a very long time for anything like a mature debate on the issue of racism in British football.
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