Matthew Brown doesn't think the latest anti-racism campaign it is aimed at enough people
“We must act to prevent the return of this racist menace” screamed the Express after the “appalling scenes” of racist chanting at Leeds v Leicester the other week. Amid “furious responses from both clubs”, the newspaper launched its own ‘Kick Out The Scum’ campaign, where you the reader can help to “cut out the cancer which afflicts OUR game”. Ho hum. Another season, another campaign against racism. There’s no Cantona antics this time, nor seig heiling England fans, but another high profile incident helps to keep up press interest in a topic that’s been covered from more angles than a game on Sky TV over the last few years.
The campaign to ‘kick racism out of football’, now renamed ‘Kick It Out’, is well into its fifth season. But the virtual disappearance of that mythological figure, the ‘football hooligan’ (neatly revived in the Express’ campaign logo) means there are plenty of hacks, and quite a few football people, who wonder if we still need an anti-racism campaign at all. As a recent report on the campaign asks, “If the clubs who say that racism and hooliganism (at least off the pitch) aren’t a problem any more are right – and there is evidence which suggests they might be – then is there a future role for ‘Kick It’?”
Anti-racist fans have pushed football into making spectacular progress in tackling what was once as great a scourge on the game as terrace violence (although it was never as well reported). From the fans’ campaigns at Leeds, Newcastle, Charlton and others, to the Commission for Racial Equality’s partnership with the PFA, to AGARI (the Advisory Group Against Racism and Intimidation) and Kick It Out (now independent of the CRE), campaigns against racism have been part of the so-called revolution in football during the 1990s. For while it may have taken the bad publicity of a kung fu kick at Selhurst Park and a shower of concrete at Lansdowne Road for the FA to pop its sheepish head above the parapet, the AGARI group it helped to set up has meant football’s authorities have now taken responsibility for the issue.
In fact it is the only time all football organizations have come together with a common purpose – quite a feat in itself. Indeed, all but two of the 65 Premier and Nationwide League clubs surveyed for the report referred to above had carried out at least some form of anti-racist action last year. And when Leeds United announce “an undercover hit squad designed to root out racists at future games” it’s a sign of how far we have come. Similarly, during a recent conference at Leicester City, Brendan Batson described the abuse he endured at the hands of an NF-inspired crowd at Bradford in the 1970s – it was a chilling reminder of how bad the bad old days were.
But Batson also highlighted how far there is to go. “For too long elements in society were able to use football to get rid of all their racist animosity,” he said. “Now the volume has been turned down, but we’d be fooling ourselves if we think it has gone away.” The virtual absence of the stereotypical ‘racist-hooligan’, all but vanished along with the DMs and the casual crews, is too often taken as evidence that racism has, in fact, disappeared. But it is surely explained as much by the changing economics and culture of football watching as it is by a new wave of multicultural sentiment among ‘ordinary supporters’. That the instant logo adopted by the outraged Express depicts just such a mythological ‘skinhead’ figure shows how ingrained that image still is.
Yet one of the most telling incidents of football racism reported last season involved a 60-year-old ‘lifelong’ Man United-fan who stood up and bawled ‘colourful’ abuse at Andy Cole for missing yet another sitter. I may be wrong, but I doubt he was a 1970s NF activist who’s just grown old in his seat. Researchers Tim Crabbe and Les Back argued at the Leicester conference that the campaign’s narrow emphasis on fan behaviour and an out of date image allows more subtle and hidden forms of racism to go unchallenged. “Why does the folk devil image of the racist hooligan fan persist?” asked Back. “Racism in football is far more complicated than this narrow view allows. We have to be open to a less demonized and sensationalized way of seeing the problem.” And that means, primarily, focusing on the clubs and authorities. For the reports of Nathan Blake’s discomfort at playing Welsh manager, Bobby Gould, provided a clearer glimpse of life for a black professional deep in the traditional heart of football culture.
Less well reported, but just as revealing, was the verbal and physical assault suffered by one ethnic minority apprentice at a Premier League club a couple of years ago; ironically the club involved was part of the ‘Let’s Kick Racism Out’ campaign. It’s also significant that no club has yet found a way of attracting black and Asian fans to their grounds in the same high numbers that they play the game, despite the fact that so many are bang in the middle of ethnic minority communities. And how come so few are employed on the ground staff, in the ticket booths, or as club secretaries, never mind as chief executives or general managers? Indeed, why is it that of professional clubs only Northampton Town has a proper equal opportunities policy for its employees?
Then there’s ‘the Asian question’. A year ago the FA held a conference at which it promised measures to encourage more Asian spectators and players. But, as far as the external eye can see, virtually nothing has been done since. Judging by the comments of one official from Blackburn Rovers at the Leicester conference, there’s still some learning to be done – he innocently recited the old myth that “Asians aren’t coming through because they are not interested in the game.” Unfortunately, David Mellor, new chief honcho of Tony Banks’ Football Task Force, made a similar comment in the Evening Standard recently. With racism apparently “the first thing” the FTF will be discussing, this is somewhat worrying, to say the least. But then, maybe the clubs (and their political friends?) are happy to have their shiny plastic seats filled with shiny happy families – no racist chanting, of course, but none of that nasty singing and jumping around either. I somehow doubt the task force will recommend a return to terraces.
Meanwhile, away from the board room and the boot room, the good work goes on. Kick It Out is targeting lower division and non-league clubs this season; while Arc Theatre is set to embark on another schools tour with the sequel to its highly successful play, Kicking Out. And the north-east campaign, Show Racism the Red Card, is launching a new video for schools. Oh yeah, and Cantona’s back. The erstwhile star of right-on Nike ads is playing in an all-star football match for the European Year Against Racism – along with another first-rate football role model, Maradona.
From WSC 129 November 1997. What was happening this month