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Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Outside the Box – Football on TV: Carlisles united as Clarke delves deep into racism in the game


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Can you feel it? We’re in that disorientating period in the football calendar when everything’s not quite right. There’s no football on the TV; other sports like cricket and bloody cycling are beginning to barge their way onto the back pages, and most distressing of all your squads on Fifa are all messed up because of the summer transfer activity.

Still, as ever, there appears to be a raft of football-themed debates lurching their way around the airwaves of TalkSport and being grammatically castrated into 140 characters on Twitter – rangers in2 SFL lgue 2 nxt season, geting all they dserve  #haha. Perhaps the biggest talking point emanating from the game right now is that unsettling elephant in room, racism. The damp summer months have been filled with hushed warnings and public outcry over this most sensitive of issues. We had the plethora of warnings and recriminations leading into the European Championships over the level of hostility awaiting both non-white players and fans alike in the towns and cities of Poland and Ukraine, to such a degree that former players like Sol Campbell, called for the Finals to be boycotted completely by English fans. Mercifully the feared abuse appeared to have been largely quelled by the authorities and the event passed by with little incident.

The other large racial cloud looming over the world of football was the all-consuming trial of comedy cockney and professional tosspot John Terry last week. Of course Terry was cleared of any wrongdoing despite the fact that he did indeed use racially aggravated language in a spat with Anton Ferdinand during a Premier League match last October. It was this ambiguity that appears to exist in our national game that prompted soccer smarty-pants Clarke Carlisle to make Monday night’s BBC 3 documentary Is Football Racist?

As head of the players union and owner of the dubious title of ‘Britain’s Cleverest Footballer’, as well as being a mixed race player himself, Carlisle was the ideal choice to front this timely peek into the murky corners of the football world. He certainly thought so anyway, reminding us constantly throughout that he has “played in all four top divisions” and that he “represents the players”. Still, Carlisle lost some of his gravitas early in his introduction to the programme when he promised that he was going to be talking to the “biggest names in the game” and Jermaine Jenas appeared onscreen.

He recovered though and throughout the hour, our Clarke met legends of the game like John Barnes and Stan Collymore, both of whom have suffered their own unpleasant prejudice during and after their playing careers. He also delved a little deeper into the discrimination seemingly entrenched in football and an interview with a couple of talented young Asian players, apparently restricted from progressing into the professional ranks due to a callous disregard of the potential in their community, was particularly upsetting and dispiriting to hear.

Clarke also spoke to his own father whose ambitions to play professional football himself were ostensibly halted by the bigotry he came up against in his semi-pro career. It demonstrates immense fortitude on his father’s part that he was able to selflessly usher his talented son into the world of football while still wearing the painful scars that he himself endured. In many ways, it was this personal slant of Clarke’s story that provided the most cogent shard of hope that the small-minded element that still exists will finally be defeated by the stronger mind and will of the majority.

Like Clarke, I fear that there is still a level of distrust and sub-conscious prejudice lurking in both the stands and corridors of football clubs. And incidents like those involving Terry and Luis Suarez, as well as the recent ill-advised Rio Ferdinand Tweet debacle, prove that the players are certainly not above such idiotic behaviour. But as long as there are people willing to stand up for what is right, there is hope yet that football can one day become a truly multi-cultural utopia.

Is Football Racist? didn’t quite hit the emotional heights of BBC3’s other taboo-busting exploration Britain’s Gay Footballers last season; but it did shine a much-needed light into the dark crevices of football to show us all that racism in the game is still an issue worthy of everybody’s attention and effort. And thankfully the BBC took five minutes out of banging on about the Olympics to provide us with it. Good on ‘em.

 

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Chris Pettitt

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