Are anti-racist football campaigns reaching the grassroots?

Are anti-racist football campaigns reaching the grassroots?


Written by: CARF

Anti-racism has now, partly because of high-profile efforts from the CRE and its chairman Sir Herman Ouseley, made its way into football.

This year’s Kick It Out campaign, backed by Blair and Hoddle, was launched in January with the Home Secretary visiting Birmingham City Football Club, and Tony Banks was guest speaker at a conference organised by socialist MEPs at Old Trafford on ‘Tackling racism in football across Europe’.

Increasingly, those who want to influence young people are using well-known footballers to spread the anti-racist word. In Scotland, Hearts striker Jose Quintongo and Hibernian’s defender Algerian Jean-Marc Boco recently launched Edinburgh’s poster campaign to reinforce zero tolerance of racism.

It was, of course, a massive step forward. Only six years ago it was left to a handful of dedicated radicals in supporters’ groups to raise the issue of racism. It was local community campaigners leafleting against fascists and racists on the terraces. While black players and supporters got abused, no one in the board rooms seemed to care. The high-profile campaigning has begun to change things. A commitment to anti-racism is now expected of the top clubs, so much so that Wimbledon’s failure to support the local Kick It Out action group by 27 January, became newsworthy. And even David Mellor, head of the government’s Football Task Force, was prepared to stick his neck out to defend a sacked black manager.

But now that anti-racism in football has impetus, it must go beyond exhortations from key spokesmen and campaigns that involve only Premier League stars. It must begin to trickle down to affect the running of the game all the way through. There are indications that anti-racism in football might dissipate its initiative in empty, politically correct gesture politics. Why, for example, was there such a concerted attack on BBC commentator John Motson for a chance remark, when someone like Jimmy Greaves was for years allowed to get away with the most outrageous comments on prime time TV?

Racism in local league football

At the other end of football’s spectrum, in local leagues, sportsmen are being driven out of the game by racism, and clubs with ‘too many’ black players are being discriminated against. Terry Dannie of Gillingham talked to CARF about his experience. He loves football, which he has played since he was 12. Today, at 29, he is outraged that he now faces a ban for life because he was sent off in five games in a row. ‘When I take a free kick, I get called all sorts things like “black bastard”. We get abuse from other teams all the time.’ When he and other team-mates reacted to racist abuse, they got shown the red card. Terry feels the way he and the other black players are singled out is totally unfair. ‘Nothing ever happens to the other side,’ he says bitterly about the racist taunters. The manager of the Boatswain and Call pub side is considering withdrawing the team from the league because the young side eight of whom are black are ‘fed up with how they are treated’. The Rochester District League’s spokesman says that a written warning about racism has gone to all clubs and refs. If that is so, it has had little effect.

Where can Terry go from here? We asked the Kick It Out campaign. They admitted that they get letters from players like Terry every day but, unfortunately, with 3,500 clubs in theirremit (and only two workers) they just can’t take up individual cases. They have also found that intervening on a player’s behalf with a local FA can even exacerbate a racism problem and penalise players yet further.

Entrenched views

Entrenched views in local FAs are something Leeds Road TRA football club in Huddersfield know all about. This all-black team, in an all-white local FA, has been fighting a two-month ban which would have dashed all hopes of promotion and cup glory. (The team has been reinstated after an appeal but the fine levied on the club has not been returned.) The West Riding County FA had taken harsh punitive action against it after an incident last November involving a supporter who quarrelled with a referee. Roy Akins, Leeds Road’s manager explains: ‘Referees think we are aggressive because we are black,’ while striker Kirk Smith insists that black players get worse treatment than whites. Akins is cynical about the FA’s backing for the Kick It Out campaign. For him the issue is more than mere abuse from supporters: ‘It’s about who runs the game and takes all the decisions.’

Local initiatives

National campaigns may not be directly affecting entrenched attitudes at local level. But there are nonetheless a plethora of new initiatives at the grass-roots which might enable anti-racism to ‘trickle up’. For example, the anti-racist play Ooh, Ah Showab Khan, about the battle of an Asian player to get into the Premier League, written by a Barking-based drama company and premiered in Newham last year, is now touring thousands of schools all over Britain. And in February Camden United a youth team of Asian, African-Caribbean and white European players created in 1995 to defuse racial tensions in Somers Town played Celtic Rangers from Ireland. This team, a non-sectarian squad, brings together Protestant and Catholic players from Dublin and Belfast.

In many schools teachers have been encouraging pupils to support the call to kick racism out of football. Primary school children have been creating their own anti-racist posters for a national competition. In Gloucestershire the Stroud Poets have, with Brockworth school, published a book of anti-racist football poetry to ‘celebrate cultural diversity in world cup year’.

Against bigotry

Celtic Football Club began the year by organising an appeal from prominent Scottish churchmen, politicians and educationalists to ‘Stop the Hate’. As part of their ‘Bhoys against Bigotry’ appeal Celtic declared the country could no longer accept sectarian bigotry which disfigured Scottish society. Celtic has already worked through Glasgow education department for one year to get children from five to fourteen in 100 schools to examine the nature of bigotry and find ways of working against it. And Celtic originally set up in the last century to meet the needs of the Irish who were excluded from existing football clubs is now very consciously trying to be equally sensitive to the needs of today’s black players and supporters.

Related links

Black footballers in Britain

Football Unites Racism Divides

Hit Racism for Six

Kick It Out

Show Racism the Red Card

The Institute of Race Relations is precluded from expressing a corporate view: any opinions expressed are therefore those of the authors.

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