It is a topic that just refuses to go away and is encompassing the whole world of the sport we love, football. As I am sure you are all aware recently the accusations of racist chants, abusive words and other such moronic behavior have been leveled at all aspects of the game. It started with just being a supporters problem in the 1980's and now, thirty years on, instead of it being quashed (or at least on the downward spiral) we find it front and center of most sports talk shows and back pages.
Now players, referees and even the FA themselves have been accused of being racist and if nothing else is done then there at least needs to be some reform done from the very highest levels of the English game all the way down and also extend that to all federations including FIFA itself.
If you ask some when this all sparked off again they will no doubt direct you to one or both of two incidents last season. The first being the only now concluded John Terry and Anton Ferdinand case or that of the Suarez and Patrice Evra case. Even once the latter had been dealt with by the FA there was still fall out from it. The following meeting between the two resulted in a non handshake between the two which sparked just as much controversy as the actually accusations themselves. I understand the reason why the Suarez 'non' handshake became a hot topic but wasn't it only a week before that Rio Ferdinand said he would refuse the handshake with Terry when Chelsea and Utd met? As it happened Terry didn't play but now there is uproar. It is also not the first time there have been handshake issues. Mancini/Hughes, Terry/Bridge, Hughes/Wenger, Wenger and probably every other manager at some point. To me it would have been bigger of Evra if he hadn't tried to force Suarezs arm back and then danced in front of him at the end of the game. Who thought Evra would be charged by the FA like Adebayor was when his celebration was deemed over the top? I for one wasn't holding my breath.
Racism in football has been bubbling just under the surface for a while and to have thought that we would have done enough by now to eradicate the problem must surely have gotten a rude awakening with the events in our beloved sport recently. However the events are not by any means out of the ordinary and indeed goes all the way up to the governing body itself.
In 1885 a young man from the Gold Coast (now Ghana) became the first Black Professional Footballer and signed for Darlington at the age of 20. Arthur Wharton died in 1930 but it wasn't until 1997 when his grave was given a headstone after an anti racism group campaigned for it and then in 2003 he was inducted into the English Football Hall of Fame. Wharton never was capped Internationally and never won any major honours during his career but currently has a petition online, the Arthur Wharton Foundation (www.arthurwharton.com) to erect a statue at his first club, Darlington in his honour.
Moving on through history, you had Dixie Dean who most famously played for Everton. There is a story where at halftime as the players left the field racist abuse was hurled at him. Dean apparently punched the offender and continued down the tunnel. No charges were brought. Strangely enough it would be fifty years later that Everton fans would hurl abuse at Liverpool player John Barnes. Fans chanted 'Everton are white' forgetting the player that had scored just under 350 goals for their club in 400 appearances and part of the League winning team, twice and FA Cup winning side all those years ago.
But it is not just the fans that players have received abuse from. Unfortunately famous managers and key figures within football have also been the source for some controversial comments. Steve Mokone while playing for Coventry says he was told by his manager, 'We brought you over here and you are not satisfied. That's the trouble with you people'. I do not know the background or setting for the comments but the South African interpreted this 'you people' as being racist and left.
Viv Anderson was another player who had to deal with abuse, regularly getting pelted with bananas and other fruit was a target of racist chants. On one occasion he informed then Manager Brian Clough of the abuse and Cloughie just responded with Anderson to go back out and fetch him two pears and a banana. Something that would not be tolerated in today’s game. It was Viv Anderson though who also became the first black player to turn out in the white shirt of England, in 1978 he made the first of his 30 appearances for his country. That was over 100 years after the first England match had been played and with all the other players selected throughout those years it made the first black player chosen was England 936th different player called up.
That was back in 1978 though and so the ratio must be better in today’s game right? Wrong. Although England do have a good number of black players in their team there have actually only been 63 black players to pull on that three lion shirt (correct up to the Switzerland game in June 2011).
It could have been all so different for the English FA as in the 1920's a great goalscorer by the name of Jack Leslie was called up. He later would receive a communication cancelling his call up as they didn't realise he was a 'man of colour'.
Paul Reaney did play for England in the 1960's but a decision is up in the air with weather he was the first 'black' player due to looking slightly darker in some and lighter in other pictures of the time. That added with the climate of the time meant that his own club didn't get involved.
This was all leading up to the 1980's though when black players were becoming higher profile and the country as a whole was feeling more violated with immigrants and a Tory leadership that saw British troops sent to the Falklands. Racism was arguably at its highest and most volatile at this point and players such as Cyrille Regis and Garth Crooks were probably two of the many high profile non-white players to deal with such levels of abuse. Regis, once called up to the England team, was sent a bullet in the post.
It has always been there though even though we may not have acknowledged it all throughout the 1990's but in 2004 it reached the television. Ron Atkinson, a pundit for ITV at the time and ex manager and player resigned after a racist comment. Atkinson, believing his microphone had been switched off made a comment involving the 'N' word about Chelsea player Marcel Desailly. Although it wasn't broadcast on English TV the comment was still being broadcast to other countries. At about the same time as his resignation from ITV he also left his columnist job at a big national paper by 'mutual agreement'.
Vivek Chaudhary reported in The Guardian of 24 January 2004 that a former England manager had “alleged that during his tenure he was told by senior FA officials not to pick too many black players.” The manager, Chaudhary wrote, “claims that he was called into an office where two senior FA officials were present and they told him that his England team should be made up of predominantly white footballers.” By investigating further this unnamed England manager is most likely Graham Taylor. He had more black players during his time as manager and would be the likely candidate to incur a 'quota'.
Racism in football continues to be an issue, but not to the extent as it had been thanks in part to campaigns such as the 'Kick It Out' campaign. The repercussions of racist chants in grounds now can be a lifetime bans from Stadiums and criminal proceedings. Despite this it still continues to occasionally raise its head whether it is from the crowd or from players themselves.
For the FA to rule so severely on the Suarez case is nothing more than hypocrisy. Ask yourselves how many black referees you can mention over recent times? I get Uriah Rennie and that's about it for me. There should have been another 'non white' referee entering the Premier League. Gurnham Singh, an accountant from Wolverhampton, became the first Asian referee to take charge of a league game in this country in 1989.
Six years later he finished top of a referees order of merit - but despite this he was never selected for the Premiership even though others ranked below him were. In 1999 he received a letter saying he had been removed from the national register.
Mr Singh won a landmark ruling against the Football League for racial discrimination and unfair dismissal. He was passed over for promotion to the EPL despite finishing top of a referees order of merit. In an 80-page written decision, the tribunal said the Football League Ltd and the Referees National Review Board did discriminate against him.
Back to Suarez and I'm not going to justify the guy but he does deserve credit for walking directly off the pitch while Evra jumped around as if they'd just won the title in that very 'non handshake' game. Compared to a handshake snub this should have been the talking point. It was the same when Rio got upset with a Balotelli wink! All the talk in the media was of Balotelli winding him up with virtually no talk of Rio's behaviour.
The handshake controversy before the kick off was really a lot of nothing. There have been many examples of players not shaking hands including the famous Bridge refusal of Terry's hand after the public news of an affair. There were also incidents with Wenger and Hughes, Hughes and Mancini and numerous others since the 'Fair Play Handshake' was introduced.
I think the media should certainly take their focus away from the non handshake incident and instead focus on racism returning to the terraces. Micah Richards has been a target of abuse through a social media network, Tom Adeyemi, while on loan at Oldham was also the target of taunts while playing a game. Even with another United - Liverpool game the police had to seize copies of a spoof fanzine which carried a cut out KKK mask. Also a man was arrested after displaying a racial provocotive T-shirt.
So now we get to Fergusons comments in that post game interview and I disagree totally with his argument that Suarez is a disgrace and should have been sacked by Liverpool. That wasn't helpful and just serves to stoke the fires in a divisive way and really doesn't address the whole problem that has started to show its ugly head again. One part of his interview I really do agree with though is the part in which he states that have come to far to let it slip back to how it was during the 1980's. Unfortunately with the media attention focused firmly on a handshake that didn't happen rather than furthering the debate it is eneglecting the bigger issue that has emerged.
For me I think you have to look at the NFL and the American sports. If you are a player in the NFL, or a coach for that matter and you step out of line then you will be getting to sit in front of the commissioner in a short space of time. The Commish is an independent, objective guy and I think with this kind of person in the English FA you can forget about people waiting what seemed like an age to get the Terry verdict and more importantly I think the punishments will become more consistent and fair. If found guilty they should be banned for longer than the four games Terry got and fined crazy amounts, after all they earn crazy amounts and so to hit them hard you have to go to extremes.
Finally, this is not a plan designed to change the culture or mentality of the players already playing. However they are (and I make no calls on any) it is how they are and how they will be. The real fight is for the youth and the future of the game. The Worlds game is a melting pot of many different nationalities and ethnic backgrounds and if it is to survive then it needs to provide the right environment for the greatest talent there is, whatever the color.