In this day and age, racism has become easier to spot. You no longer get working class northern comedians on primetime television yakking on about “nig-nogs” and, in football, no-one could away with, say, the claim of Ron Noades that black players couldn’t cope with defending, especially in bad weather. These days, racism is veiled. Anyone that spends any time in the company of the general public knows that it still exists, but those in public positions also know that to make a racist public statement would be professional suicide. It’s still there, though – in the Islamophobia of the tabloid press and the occasional ugly shouts that you hear coming from the terraces on a Saturday afternoon. All that has happened has been that racism has become, in some respects, more difficult to spot.
One way in which this manifested itself in football was in the lack of black managers in the Premier League, which was, in comparison with the number of black players at that level, a more than feeble zero for many, many years. This figure has been improved upon (it could hardly not be) with the likes of Jean Tigana and Ruud Gullit, but the lack of black British managers continued to be striking and was, if anything, only emphasised by the appointment of Paul Ince to manage Blackburn Rovers a couple of months ago. How on earth did it take the combined efforts of the top flight of English football 120 years to give a managerial position to a black Englishman? It is, ultimately, difficult to not see it as some form of veiled racism.
Bearing this in mind, it is difficult to see the recent rumours of a mutiny in the dressing room at Ewood Park as more of the same thing, though it is difficult to know whether this racism is coming from the dressing room or from the press itself. The Mail On Sunday’s original article is a pretty poor piece of work – no names are named, and no right of reply is offered to the club. It reeks of being little more than a hatchet job on Ince before a ball has even been kicked. The loss of David Bentley and Brad Friedel are both held up as examples something being wrong there, although (for very different reasons) they may have been inevitable no matter no matter who the new choice of Blackburn manager had been. Indeed Bentley’s display of petulance on the training ground is noted as a criticism of Ince rather than Bentley himself. One wonders how he will get on under the notoriously authoritarian Juande Ramos at Tottenham if that is his reaction to being made to do twenty press-ups in training for a perceived lack of discipline, no matter how right or wrong that perception may have been.
One suspects a case of “six of one, and half a dozen of the other” at play, here. The MoS frequently holds an agenda within its news section that is suspect, to say the least. It would be unfair to say that Ince is being singled out for criticism by the paper over the colour of his skin, but the quotations used in the offending article would indicate that, at the very least, the player that the quotes are attributed to has not allowed him the same level of basic respect that one would expect. The idea of anyone involved in the Premier League being “too egotistical” (as if all modern footballers are wallflowers) is, frankly, risible. Disillusion at “the way he has tried to impose his personality on the club” is simply not a criticism that I have ever heard of an incoming manager. Managers are usually expected to “impose their personalities” on a club, in order to assert their authority over players and model the squad that is the squad that they want.
Most troubling of all, however, is the comment that, “a lot of us wanted to give him a chance to see how it worked out”. Now, I know that Ince doesn’t have any Premier League experience, but in lifting the Johnstones Paint Trophy last year, he has already won more than many existing Premier League managers. He also has a range of experience as a player in Italy and in England that puts more or less everybody in the current Blackburn Rovers squad to shame. If it isn’t racist, then the player that made this alleged comment should, frankly, feel ashamed of himself for having made a comment so patronising that it could be construed as racist. Ultimately, the millionaire players of Blackburn Rovers have some serious thinking to do. Should they no longer wish to play for their club, they should issue transfer requests and take pay cuts to go elsewhere. A cowardly, anonymous hatchet job on their new manager will hardly create a more relaxed atmosphere at Ewood Park. As for the Mail On Sunday, well, the poor quality of their report has left them open to accusations of being racially motivated in their coverage of a story that could turn out to be a big heap of nothing. That is a pretty damning indictment in itself.