Socialist Worker

Tackling racism on the terraces

by Phil Vasili
Issue No. 1866

BBC2 BROADCAST The Colour of Football on 19 August about racism in the game. It's an important issue. Yet they transmitted it late at night in the middle of a month when many are on holiday. There were positive aspects. It allowed ordinary fans to voice their disgust at racism. It featured black players explaining the effect that racist abuse and actions have on them.

We saw archive footage of past stars like John Fashanu, Clyde Best, Laurie Cunningham, Ricky Hill and others. We heard racist chants, watched bananas being thrown, and revisited Nazi activity outside grounds.

But the presenter, Patrick Robinson, put forward the laughable thesis that three structural occurrences in the 1990s have helped diminish racism within football. These were the 1991 Football Offences Act which barred collective racist chanting, the formation of football's national anti-racism campaigning organisation Kick It Out in 1993, and the formation of the FA Premiership in 1992.

But the 1991 act still allowed racist abuse by individuals. The formation of Kick It Out was a positive move, but it exists on a shoestring budget and is presently fighting against a reduction in its funding. Patrick's argument fell apart when he suggested that the formation of the Premiership, an act of greed on the part of the Football Authority and the biggest clubs, was a primary cause in the reduction of racist chanting and abuse at grounds. Come on, you can't be serious!

His rationale was that the input of Rupert Murdoch's millions into the Premiership meant clubs were interested in winning above all else. The enormity of the prize extinguished any petty concerns with colour. Fans wanted to see their teams competing with the best. And if that meant signing and keeping black players, so be it. If fans barracked black players, they would lose those players.

And who would want to see world class employees like George Weah, Ruud Gullit, Thierry Henry and the like hand in their notice because of abuse in the workplace?

But has racism been eradicated? The programme admitted it hadn't. John Barnes, who scored that wonderful goal in the Maracana in 1984, has stated that when racism is no longer a social problem it will no longer be a football problem.

The problem is created outside football. Racism is endemic to global capitalism and reflects the global divisions of wealth. This doesn't mean that nothing can be done to fight racism in football. A lot has been achieved and much is still to do.

The programme should have recounted in more detail and depth the activism of fans. It has been the collective response of supporters and grassroots organisations that have kicked the racists out of many grounds.

Football fans and players are the key players in the fight against racism in the game. Slowly supporter directors are being elected to boards and fans groups are buying shares in clubs. While these developments are progressive and should be encouraged, they are only piecemeal.

We shouldn't be looking to the people above for solutions. Sadly the programme didn't see this.

Phil's two books on this topic are The First Black Footballer: Arthur Wharton 1865-1930 (Frank Cass, 1998) and Colouring Over the White Line: A History of Black Footballers in Britain (Mainstream, 2000)

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Sat 30 Aug 2003, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1866
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