Racism in football

(and by football I mean the game where the ball may not be played with the hand by most players, not the game where the ball may not be played with the foot by most players)

content note: discussion of acts of racism against Black and Jewish players and fans

There’ve been more and more frequent incidents of racism, largely anti-Black racism but also anti-Semitism and anti-Asian, happening in football in various European countries. Really vile stuff: throwing bananas, making monkey noises, and other abuses of Black players, and hideously, gas-hissing noises at teams thought to have a lot of Jewish support, or which are traditionally associated with Jewish fans. Incidents are listed by country at this link.

Starting with anti-Semitism, because it’s something that comes to my attention fairly often, as the team I’ve supported since I was a wee thing (Tottenham Hotspur FC, from the north side of London in the UK) has traditionally been associated with a large contingent of Jewish fans. The fans, when confronted with the usual anti-Semitic horrors thrown at them by fans of nearby rivals, have often sung with pride of being ‘the Yid Army’, turning the anti-Semitic slur “Yid” into a term of pride in not being bigots.

This usage is obviously fraught, as the support base has grown well outside our north-London home into being in the second tier of football’s biggest clubs in the UK, and the prevalence of Jewish fans of the team has diminished by proportion. Meaning a group of mostly non-Jews are singing songs about being proud to be Yids, and such; some Jewish fans (and not-fans) have complained, on (I think) reasonable grounds.

I am, absolutely, proud that my fellow Spurs fans take pride in our association with the Jewish community of north London, especially given the right-wing and often white-supremacist stuff that is used to attack us by fringe groups of hardline fans of rival teams, a good portion of whose fans wouldn’t ever use those terms or attacks.

But tiny in overall proportion isn’t much help when you’re in a stadium and hearing it from a few thousand singing people. So as much as I hate to lose our term of pride, I do wish my fellow Spurs fans would heed the words of those we’re so proud to welcome against the awful things hurled at them, and retire the word from our chantbook.

Maybe instead we could learn some traditional Yiddish songs and use those tunes, or even learn them in Yiddish, and show our pride that way. I believe we can find ways to show that pride without doing harm to the people we want to be honouring.


Also, from the other kind of football, the one with almost no kicking: the Washington team? Time to find a new way to ‘honour’ those your name is allegedly meant to embiggen. Using an unambiguously racist slur as your team nickname is just…just please, stop digging, Mr. Owner of the Washington team? Put down the shovel, have a contest to rename the team, sell some naming rights, call it the Washington Tide™, and cash in on that sweet laundry-sponsor money or something. But enough with the slurs as names for teams. That’s so twencen.


Back to the world’s game, Black players have walked out – at least once, notably, with their entire team following them – of games in which they have been racially abused, so far only friendlies and pre-season games, and most noted in Italy, though Black players themselves are quite clear that they don’t see Italy as being particularly more likely to find racial abuse as part of their fan culture.

As a bit of evidence that it goes on in the usual much-less-noticeable ways too, former England/Spurs/Arsenal (BOO!) defender Sol Campbell said that in order to become a team manager*, he’s preparing to go abroad to find work. He highlights that the top four divisions in English football – NINETY-TWO TEAMS – have only four Black managers running a team.

In an interview, Campbell said

…he may have to go abroad to move into coaching because of “archaic” prejudice and his “broken” relationship with the Football Association. Campbell, who won 73 England caps, is working towards gaining UEFA’s A-licence, the game’s second-highest coaching qualification. But he believes prevailing attitudes in the professional game mean “there are no opportunities” for him in a country where only four black managers — Chris Hughton, Paul Ince, Chris Powell and Chris Kiwomya — work in the top four divisions.

For further tools to help fight racism so as to make the beautiful game beautiful again, I cannot too strongly recommend the FARE** network, who’ve been working very hard for years to change attitudes about racism in the game, from fan support to top executives.

* In the UK, the team’s ‘manager’ is the one responsible for the team on game day, giving tactical orders and making substitutions and picking the starters and such. They’re also frequently (but not always) the person in charge of recruitment of players from outside their own youth system, namely free agent signings, player exchanges, or sale/loans of players.

** I think it’s for Footballers Against Racism Everywhere, but I couldn’t find confirmation.

4 thoughts on “Racism in football

    • Oh, gods, an Arsenal fan. And to think I actually liked you. 😉

      Actually, I really dislike trash-talking in general (echoes of bullying), and I don’t get the need to get even a pretend hate on for people just for liking a different band of scorehole-stuffing not-from-around-here mercenaries. So I really don’t get reaching for racist attacks over it, either. It’s hideous and stupid.

      One of the coolest things about going to the Women’s World Cup (I went to both US ones around the turn of the century, in DC and NYC in 1999, then Columbus in 2003, to follow Canada both times) was that the fans of both sides sat mingled up in the stadia, and were cheering for good play generally as well as their own sides. In our game against Norway in ’03, there were a small family of Swedish-Americans sat next to us who were there to watch the Sweden-Australia game, but since the games were sold as doubleheaders, we all watched each other’s games, and the Swedes cheered for the Norwegians, because that’s how it goes at the WWC.

      But then the Norwegians leapt out to a big lead, and the Swedes next to us very politely stopped making a fuss about goals, instead expressing sympathy that it’s no fun when your team gets thumped (I think we lost 7-1?, after scoring first). It made it a lot easier to stay happy even while our women lost, and we went to dinner with the Swedes after they’d squeaked out a bare win over the Matildas, in a really exciting and close game.

      I’ll definitely watch the doc, thank you very much. I hope our teams get to continue battling for first place all year long (nice start for both, being 1-2 in the standings heading for October…) 😀

  1. Yup I don’t get the “hate filled rivalry” thing either. I like most of the Spurs players and their manager too.

    The WC must have been great fun. I watched the 2011 WC final between US and Japan online on some streaming site. The connection kept freezing but I watched nonetheless, it was such an exciting game. I was behind Japan all the way (sorry 🙂 ).

    • No worries, so was I! 🙂 Canada has a great rivalry with the US in women’s sports; the two ice hockey teams have been the two finalists in the women’s world championships most of the time, and the winning’s been about even, although the other teams are catching up more now.

      So just as my Scots friends always cheer against England, my Canadian friends always cheer against the US. Everyone loves an underdog, anyway, and the Japanese were really quite impressive in that whole WWC.

      One of the worst things about my disability is that it’s made me stop playing football. I played up through March of this year, but the added pain load became more than I could live with. 😦 It’s very frustrating, I’ll be playing Football Manager or watching a game online and see someone do a move, and think “I’ll have to try that one next time I pl- oh. right.” I wonder if that feeling will ever go away?

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