True Faith has gone on record on several occasions over the course of the last few months to express its disappointment, disgust and downright anger at the overt expressions of racism creeping back into English football.
I say overt racism because after years of thinking that we’d never return to the horrors that played out in and around English football stadia in the 70s, 80s and early 90s, and having naively thought that racism in English football was consigned to its own fully deserved place in hell, it has returned with such rapidity that it now feels naive to even suggest that it went away for a while. The amount of incidents of race hate abuse (crime) that have been reported since the start of this season suggest that those perpetrating it never took stock of their pathetic hatred and bigotry and did not realise how idiotic they and their opinions were, and instead just laid low and stayed quiet until their day came again.
The tired argument that it’s only a small minority who abuse players is no longer applicable. In fact, it never was. Racial abuse has been reported pretty much every single weekend and at every single level of the game lately.
Here’s just a few examples from October which saw multiple reports of race hatred being played out in the world of football:
- England players leave the pitch twice because of the racist abuse of players in Bulgaria
- Haringey goalkeeper Valery Douglas Pajetat was reportedly spat at and hit by an object thrown from the Yeovil Town.
- Bristol City fans accused of hurling racist abuse at Luton Town players
- Accusations of racism from Hearts’ fans towards Rangers’ forward Alfredo Morelos
- Liverpool fan displays a flag of Divock Origi which displays a vile racist trope
It’d be easy to look at the words ‘alleged’, ‘reportedly’ and ‘accusations’ and come to the conclusion that it’s all hearsay. Well, if that’s the conclusion someone comes to immediately then they need to take a look at themselves because the victims of this hate don’t just make it up. People don’t pretend they’ve been racially abused. However, it’s easier for people to deny the reality of something that might reflect badly on them and force them to evaluate their own opinions than it is to admit the truth that they might be part of and benefit from a system that permits the systemic abuse of fellow human beings.
This season so far has been proof enough that even if the numbers of those carrying out the racial abuse are tiny compared to the huge numbers of spectators who go to matches, nothing significant enough has been done to silence the bigots who feel it’s perfectly acceptable to walk into a football stadium or any other space and direct hate speech at fellow human beings.
If anything, the current political climate at home and abroad, with far-right parties making significant gains in European countries (Hungary and Poland have far-right governments, the Lega Nord’s Matteo Salvini was until last month Deputy Prime Minister in Italy, we have a Prime Minister who is on record using racist slurs…I could go on) and, of course, the white-supremacist-in-chief in the White House, seems to have emboldened the bigots. They may well have thought that their time had passed and that the only safe space for them to spew out their toxic opinions was behind closed doors with their racist pals. However, the number of reported incidents of abuse registered this season suggests that racists are no longer fearful of expressing their hate. They are newly emboldened.
If they don’t fear the repercussions of their actions then nor must we fear challenging them. We must take the fight do them, we must not just let it happen, pretend we didn’t hear it, hope someone else might say something or that a steward might step-in and sort it out. If we hear or see any form of bigotry then we must be brave and stand up to it.
Of course, I still don’t believe that the vast majority of football fans are racist. However, I am deeply concerned that racism in the game is not only returning but is once again becoming mainstreamed and normalised through print and social media. We only have to look at the differing narratives constructed around financially successful young black and white players to appreciate the part that the right-wing press plays in stoking the flames of bigotry.
Marcus Rashford only last month said: “To be honest, I’ve always said that the more we speak about it, it doesn’t have much of an impact. We’ve tried. There’s been examples everywhere where people have spoken out and I wouldn’t say they’ve been ignored, but nothing has really changed. To see it spike in the last couple of months has been unbelievable, so we want to nip it in the bud while it’s happening.” We as fans can and should play a part in not only nipping it in the bud but also in educating those around us who might hold such abhorrent opinions.
Ultimately, if a player reacted as Mario Balotelli did last weekend and walked off he’d have my full support.
Racism is never, ever something that should be put into some form of context. We should never say ‘well, it’s only a few hundred out of 100s of 1000s’. We should always say ‘if it’s one person, it’s too many’ and we must look to root it out immediately. We cannot wait until the moment when it’s a few more, we cannot wait to see if it’s died down in a few months’ time, we must always act on and challenge it immediately.