If only, we might pause to reflect, he had used the name ‘Laika’ instead. At least that way around we might have been spared the acres and acres of coverage that we have been subjected to since around about half past ten last night. There is, in a perverse way, almost something comforting about something relating to the England national football team being plunged back into CRISIS via a combination of, depending on who you believe, anything up to three or four different sources. The previous twenty-four hours of relative serenity had all been most un-English, and at least we can probably all agree that, whether this is a non-story or not, at least abnormal service has been restored. The planets are back in alignment, or, to put it another way, the circus is back in town.

To try – and merely typing these words is enough to make the heart simultaneously sink towards the stomach and leap to the throat – and make some sort of sense of this story, we should probably have a go at sorting the wheat from the chaff, because there’s a lot of white noise out there at the moment.. So, what probably does matter in terms of this story, and what probably doesn’t?

Things That Probably Don’t Matter

  1. The joke itself wasn’t that funny: Well, it should be perfectly self-evident to anybody with a modicum of common sense that whether a joke is funny or not should make no difference as to whether either it is offensive or not, or whether somebody should or shouldn’t find it offensive or not.
  2. Roy Hodgson shouldn’t have been telling jokes at half-time during an important international match: If one thing was surprising about England’s performances on both Friday and Tuesday night, it was how relaxed the team looked. The team’s natural state is to play as if the weight of the world rests upon its shoulders. If cracking a joke at half-time – and we should remind ourselves that half-time lasts for fifteen minutes while the joke concerned can surely have taken less than two minutes to tell – relaxes the players, that’s probably A Good Thing for a team that plays its matches under such a hyperreal level of pressure.
  3. We, broadly speaking, like Roy Hodgson: Well, it’s true. We do. An article by Martin Kettle in The Guardian this morning painted a of a decent, thoughtful and literate man, of which we could do with having more of but who is part of what may well be a dying breed. This, however, shouldn’t blind us to any transgressions that he may make. Allegations of this sort should be carefully considered rather than casually dismissed because we like his accent and the fact that he’s Not Harry Redknapp.

Things That May Or May Not Matter

  1. The player concerned shouldn’t have run straight to the media: We will never know the true, exact motives of anyone directly involved in this story, though in one or two cases we could hazard a guess as to what they might have been. Ultimately, to blame somebody for being offended is a dangerous route down which to follow, particularly if you’re white. Whether it would have been more appropriate to raise the matter internally with the FA first… well… that’s debatable, depending on a whole range of opinion-based factors.
  2. Thinking that Roy Hodgson has got a raw deal puts you in line with the sort of people that use the phrase, ‘It’s political correctness gone mad’: It’s an uncomfortable thought, initially, to think that to side with this argument aligns you with the sort of person who thinks that they have an inalienable right to be as vile ad they like no matter what, and it feels like an inevitability that, somewhere, a columnist isn’t already girding himself to write eight hundred words of glop entitled, ‘Why Roy Hodgson Said What We’re All Banned From Saying’, or some other such nonsense.
  3. Some significant people consider it to be either a non-story or concluded: It might be argued that the person who may have had the most right to be offended at this joke was Andros Townsend, and his reaction to the story on Twitter this morning – “I don’t know what all this fuss is about. No offence was meant and none was taken! It’s not even news worthy!” – and that of his father Troy, who works for Kick It Out as its mentoring manager, and insisted that he was not offended and couldn’t understand why it had generated so much coverage – may well be significant, as might Kick It Out’s comments on the matter this afternoon, that “Kick It Out, football’s equality and inclusion campaign, is pleased that The Football Association (FA) has investigated this matter swiftly and issued its findings immediately. If there has been no complaint on the back of the investigation then the matter can only be deemed as concluded.” Having said that, however, this doesn’t and shouldn’t affect another player’s right to express his dissatisfaction over it, even if we might disagree with the way in which he did so.

Things That Probably Do Matter

  1. Much of the public reaction to this story tells a story in itself: Anyone with a cursory knowledge of the British tabloid press can surely only roll their eyes at the very concept of the likes of The Sun being to the left of the vast majority of people on matters of anti-racism, so to look for an alternative motive of their part is hardly surprising. It’s conjecture to wonder whether the placing of this story may have been motivated by a deep-seated hatred of the current manager at said newspapers or the belief that there’s still time for a saggy-jowelled Championship manager from the East End to assume the position that some had campaigned quite vigorously in favour of. The reaction of many people to its publication, however, says at the very least a lot about those people think of the motives of this end of the newspaper market and, perhaps, about those newspapers themselves.
  2. Tabloid newspapers make cash from chaos: Even if we cast aside Redknapp-based theories behind the placing of this story, perhaps the greatest part of the raison d’être of newspapers in the twenty-first century, when we can get all the news in the world at the touch of a button, is to kick up a stink. It’s what they do, even though the hypocrisy of them painting themselves as the England team’s biggest supporters when a major tournament does come around remains as striking as it ever was. It’s difficult, however, to be surprised by this sort of behaviour from a tabloid newspaper, and they’re good at it. What we can say with a degree of certainty is that if the yellow press wanted wanted a fuss – and let’s face it, they did – then they at least have got what they wanted.
  3. If it’s any consolation, at least we’re having a conversation about it all: If this entire debate were to be summed up as “unfortunate”, then at least may console ourselves with the fact that a debate about the nature of racism in football is being had that would never have been had as recently as two or three decades ago. It’s possible to contruct an argument which suggests that getting so worked up about a clumsy but innocuous joke plays into the hands of people who gleefully argue that “political correctness” has indeed “gone mad”, but – and this is not intended as a slight on any of those involved in it – if some people do pause to consider the nature of racism, how easy it might be to say something that could be misconstrued or anything else tangenitally related to the issue of racism within the game. Because this issue, in a broad sense, quite clearly hasn’t gone away.

Ultimately, perhaps, we should consider that to label an individual as racist in Britain in the twenty-first century is one of the most scathing and damaging accusations that can be thrown at somebody. It feels as if there isn’t enough here to suggest that there is much more to this story than mischief-making on the part of the newspapers who kicked up the fuss in the first place, although there are no absolutes in terms of opinions on the subject. If there does turn out to be more to it than has so far met the eye, then that will be a conversation for that day. For now, though, perhaps that air of serenity will return to the England national team over the course of the next few days. How long that will last for, however, is not something we’d like to bet upon.

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