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.

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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.

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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.