Bigotry In The UK

Wednesday, November 15, 2006 18:51 | Filed in Articles, Life, Politics, Sport

Originally posted on State Of The Game, the independent football website to visit.

It was almost thirty years ago (December 1976) that The Sex Pistols burst onto the scene, declaring that they were anarchists. Let’s just stop for a moment to reflect on that: the punk movement is thirty years old. It probably has two kids and a mortgage now.

But while the Pistols were happy to proclaim their anarchic tendencies (amongst others) to the world, in the thirty years since, there haven’t exactly been many people willing to step forward and declare their bigoted nature.

It is widely accepted that racism, sexism, disability related discrimination and religious bigotry are plain wrong. It seems to be taking longer for the equivalent message for homophobia and age discrimination to get across, which is a shame, but inroads are being made, and I feel that my generation (despite growing up in Thatcher’s Britain) are more tolerant and less bigoted than any preceeding generation.

But the message is still a long way from complete. Step forward the UK’s national sport and flag-flyer for bigotry — football.

Who can forget BFR declaring that the problem with Marcel Desailly was that he was lazy and thick, although the problem Ron had was more to do with the fact he also managed to add the word “nigger” to the sentence, and seemed quite happy to have used it because he thought he was off-air.

Sure enough, he was roundly condemned for his views, but seemed surprised by the fuss, pointing out that because he’s worked with a lot of black players he couldn’t possibly be a racist. Now I don’t know what does or doesn’t make up a racist, and I don’t know how Ron has treated people throughout his life so I’m not in a position to comment on this, but what was certainly clear was that he was guilty of using racist language, which is completely unacceptable.

The worrying thing for me was that he seemed perfectly aware he shouldn’t have said it, leaving me wondering whether the term was used regularly in his mental processes and it was only by passing them through some “made for TV” filter that it didn’t come out more often.

And then over last weekend we’ve got Mike Newell’s latest gems. On seeing his team denied what he believed to be a certain penalty which wasn’t given by an assistant referee — who happened to be female — he got a little upset, saying:

What was the lineswoman doing here? She shouldn’t be here. I know that sounds sexist but I am sexist so I am not going to be anything other than that. We have a problem in this country with political correctnessMike Newell, Luton Town

…and just in case we weren’t 100% sure what his views were from that he then went on to add:

It is bad enough with the incapable referees and linesmen we have but if you start bringing in women, you have big problemsMike Newell, Luton Town

It appears that he believes women have no place playing football. Presumably they should just make sure that his dinner is on the table by the time he gets home, as they’ve probably got no place going to work at all. Come to think of it, if they’re not as capable as men of making decisions over what is and what isn’t a penalty, then what on earth were we thinking when we gave them the right to vote?

What made it worse was the fact he sounded almost proud of being sexist. We may have a problem with political correctness, Mike, but the reason political correctness came along in the first place was to combat things like racism and sexism — which sadly appears to still with us, wouldn’t you say Mike?

By the time he realised the damage he was doing to his reputation and his career he got round to issuing an apology …but like BFR, it’s sadly far too little and far too late.

Now it may be that I have some prejudice against women carrying out the job of assistant referees. But that is not because I don’t think they are capable of it, it’s because I don’t like the term “assistant referee”. We used to have linesmen. I don’t see why we can’t have linesmen and lineswomen. It’s the term assistant referee I don’t like. I couldn’t care less who is doing it, as long as they remember that if Newcastle are attacking, it was a penalty, and if they are defending, it wasn’t.

I’m fully supportive of anyone — male or female — who wants to suffer the thankless task of being a match official and I’m particularly proud of my teenage niece who has been studying for — and passing — the tests she needs to take in order to start out being a ref. Good for her. I just hope that when she’s made it a bit further down the line and is reffing a world cup finals match, she can pass me a few tickets…

The other factor is that Mike Newell and the Luton Town players are paid considerably more than the match officials. The match officials have a thankless task which they will clearly do to the best of their ability (and yes, they will make mistakes from time to time). However, if match officials have missed giving a clear penalty, and a player has missed a sitter six yards from goal, who is the manager going to aim both barrels at in the press conference? Yes, that’s right: the one paid less, because they’re an easy target and it’s a cheap shot.

I’d also like to point out to Mike Newell that many women play football professionally — just look at Mia Hamm, considered the best woman to have played the game (admittedly, as she’s American, she played “soccer”), who has won two gold and one silver Olympic medals, clocked up 276 international caps and scored 158 international goals and was one of only two women who made it onto FIFA’s all time top 100 players list. How does that compare with your record, Mike? Hmm, let’s see. No full caps for your country, 120 career goals in total and didn’t make it onto FIFA’s list. Perhaps Luton should give her a call instead, eh?

And let’s not forget there’s still a certain amount of racism in football that still hasn’t been stamped out. The 19 year old German Aaron Hunt was recently given a 2 match ban by UEFA for racially abusing an English player in an Under-21 game; a significant amount of racist chanting was heard coming from the Spanish fans in an England friendly there in 2004, and let’s not pretend that you still don’t get the occasional racist comment at Premiership games.

Then of course we have the spectre of Englishman-as-hooligan; the lager-fuelled, flag-waving and Johnny Foreigner hating bigot with a red face and no T-shirt that threatens to appear when England are playing in major tournaments. Not that it’s strictly an English problem; all national teams have their hooligans and certain amounts of sectarian bigotry have been noted North of the border at times…

And then of course we have the issue of homophobia. It is estimated that something like one in twenty people are exclusively homosexual. Each of the 92 league clubs has eleven players starting each match. So, without counting substitutes, reserve teams and unused squad players, that is 1012 players. On a purely statistical average, that’s 50 exclusively homosexual footballers playing in the English leagues every weekend, and 11 in the Premiership.

How many of them can you name?

For that matter, how many homosexual footballers can you name who have played in the English leagues at any point (except Justin Fashanu)?

Is the answer still none?

Why is this? Is it because no gay footballer has the confidence to think that if he was to stand up and admit his homosexuality, he wouldn’t be mercilessly taunted, and hounded out of the game. Sadly, I think that’s probably true.

I’d speculate that the actual proportion of homosexuals playing professional football is less than 5%, but again that this is more likely to be to do with their fears of being found out and then cast out than any lack of desire to actually play professional football.

What happened when Robbie Fowler waved his backside in the direction of Graeme Le Saux, presumably to cast questions over his sexuality? Note however that Le Saux also committed the seemingly unpardonable sin in football of saying he read The Guardian (Whatever next? A footballer who doesn’t like Genesis or play golf?), for which Fowler received a two match ban.

The question must surely also be put as to why in football — and wherever else in society this might occur — are “accusations” of homosexuality seen as insulting? Lets face it, there must be homosexual Premiership players and the question is surely why don’t we know of any. If they don’t feel comfortable enough to be openly homosexual, then what does this tell us about the bigoted attitudes of footballers, ex-footballers, football pundits, the media in general and society at large? It tells me we need to take a long hard look at ourselves and bloody well grow up.

The message is clear: racism isn’t officially tolerated — and although the authorities do take action at times — is still present. On the other hand, homophobia seems not only to be tolerated but almost actively encouraged on the terraces — I’ve heard comments made towards one player being ignored by stewards which surely would have seen people kicked out of grounds if they were based on his race, and the majority of nearby supporters responding with hearty laughs and pats on the back, rather than with the glares, tuts and shushes that tend to be associated with racism. And don’t pretend it would be different at your club.

Hmm. Racism, sexism, homophobia. Greavsie might say it’s a funny old game, but you don’t see me laughing…

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6 Comments to Bigotry In The UK

  1. Mike Cherim says:

    November 16th, 2006 at 3:33 pm

    I cannot tolerate bigotry. It saddens me. Black, white, red, yellow, straight or gay, man or woman. It everyone’s world.

    You really made me laugh with that thirty year old punk movement statement, Jack. It made me wonder if their staples are falling out and their spikes are getting droopy now.

  2. Alan says:

    November 17th, 2006 at 10:48 am

    Take one look at John Lydon for your answer Mike….

    Great article Jack and a welcome reminder that David Beckham’s future and Graham Poll’s penchant for three yellow cards sren’t really the most important issues football in the UK still faces.

  3. ThePickards » Blog Archive » Bigotry In The UK: Part 2 says:

    March 22nd, 2007 at 8:50 pm

    [...] November last year, I wrote a blog post called Bigotry In The UK which condemned the racism, sexism and rampant homophobia in our glorious national game. Four [...]

  4. ThePickards » Blog Archive » 33: A Meme says:

    June 2nd, 2007 at 12:36 am

    [...] Bigotry In The UK [...]

  5. David says:

    March 24th, 2008 at 10:02 pm

    Whether it is homophobia or segregating people into friendly and enemy, people will always have something to look at in a bad way.

  6. JBVoices » Money is the root of all idiots. says:

    March 25th, 2008 at 2:55 pm

    [...] on other people’s blogs and came across an item from November 2006 by Jack Pickard entitled Bigotry in the UK where he talks about those who seem to feel that they are so secure in their public idolatry that [...]

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