The Kick It Out campaign entered its second season with a presentation of a report, Alive and Still Kicking, produced by three researchers at Goldsmiths College,  Les Back, Tim Crabbe and John Solomos, who offer their views on the progress made by the campain

Monday, 21st October saw the latest relaunch of the “Let’s Kick Racism Out of Football Campaign”. With such launches now becoming something of an annual event and the media becoming a little tired of the subject matter, the sceptic might be left asking what new there is to say. Indeed, anyone attending last year’s launch might have been left to wonder whether there was any point to carrying on anyway, given the almost universal declaration from the panel that racism was not really much of a problem anymore.

One man with plenty of critical things to say about the campaign in his recently published autobiography was Ian Wright, on the basis that this was just another tokenistic football PR job. This was the very same Ian Wright who chose to sit on the platform this year and offer his support to the relaunch of the campaign. Wright’s involvement marks recognition from one of the most consistent victims of racial abuse over the past couple of seasons that this campaign offers something more enduring. His support also reflects the willingness of the football-wide Advisory Group Against Racism and Intimidation (AGARI), which runs the campaign, to listen to views which don’t fit so comfortably with football’s current shiny, happy image.

For the past two years we have been looking at the issue of racism in football and have been struck by the uniformity of people’s perceptions of racism in the game: it is viewed principally as either an element of the ‘hooligan’ problem or the result of organized interventions by far right political activists.

Such images have emerged out of an association between football hooliganism and racism in the academic press, a fascination with sinister relationships between the far right and organized football violence in the popular press and, even more compellingly, an inflation of the role of neo-Nazis in football by anti-racist campaigners themselves.

It’s easy for everyone to support a campaign against racism in football when it is targeted against pathologically aggressive, neo-Nazi thugs. It might prove a little more tricky to generate football-wide support if we were to start asking questions about attitudes in the boardroom, on the pitch and at the training ground.

Even amongst supporters the reality is quite different. The relationship between overt racism by supporters and organized violence and anti-social behaviour is relatively weak. Those fans that are active in ‘hooligan’ groups are aware that they are being closely watched by the police and are reluctant to draw attention to themselves within grounds and as a result are usually extraordinarily quite and unexpressive.

It is also the case that inner cities ‘hooligan’ networks regularly include high profile and often prestigious black members. Indeed the networks associated with ‘hooliganism’ are often far more multi-cultural than the wider population of ‘respectable’ fans. This fact doesn’t mean that such groups are bastions of liberal minded anti-racists, but equally they are not dominated by fully paid-up BNP skinheads.

Despite this, racism in football continually gets thought of as an appendage to the ‘hooligan problem’. Efforts to address the issue are often banded together with policies to deal with those fans who raise two fingers to rival players after a glaring miss. With intimidation and banter as much a part of the game as ‘Abide With Me’, the real issue is the point at which healthy and lively fan involvement descends into racism. Certainly crude forms of racist chanting are less frequent now than ten or 20 years ago and any fan will tell you that the National Front paper sellers have been replaced by fanzine sellers. But this doesn’t mean that racism has disappeared, rather what is striking about its current form is its ordinariness: the old man on the terrace calling black players ‘spooks’ just as he might call a red head ‘ginger’; the wag leading a chorus of ‘I’d rather be a Paki than a Scouse’; or the boorish Chairman’s casual use of racial stereotypes. Equally, the unease and resistance on the part of football clubs themselves to address the issue has become part of the problem: to say nothing amounts to little more than complicity through silence.

The re-launched campaign plans to widen its focus. AGARI have promised to address the under representation of black people within coaching and management, the complete absence of Asian professional players and to foster work with minority communities at the grass roots level of football. At every level of football difficult and uncomfortable questions need to be faced. The tired stereotypes used to explain the absence of Asian players as a result of ‘parental emphasis on education’, and the ‘inability’ of black players to perform in the ravages of the English winter need to be exploded once and for all.

We would argue that it is the taken-for-granted nature of racism in football which makes it shocking and threatening. The racism associated with the supporter who indulges in occasional name calling or playful racial insults can currently be made legitimate on the basis that “He’s not racist – he’s only winding him up”, since they are just like us, not hooligan Nazis. As fans we need to have the confidence to stand up and tell the ordinary bloke who gets up to hurl abuse at an opposing black player to shut up and feel that our clubs and stewards are right behind us. It’s time to look clearly into the everyday face of racism that still haunts our national game both in its institutions and amongst its loyal fans.

From WSC 118 December 1996. What was happening this month

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