Kicking the habit

Blink and you might miss it. But, as Matthew Brown writes, the quiet passing of this year's anti-racism week may not be a negative thing

You had to look pretty hard to notice it, but the days from October 13 to 25 were officially football’s “national anti-racism week of action”. It’s ten years since the FA and Premier League were first dragged out of their complacency into taking the issue seriously, forced – partly in reaction to Eric Cantona’s kung-fu kick – to join the national campaign then headed by the Commission for Racial Equality, the Professional Footballers’ Association and the Football Supporters Association.

The campaign has grown and changed, gaining in authority and independence. In some ways the lack of coverage for this year’s “week” is a sign of success. If you squinted hard during Match of the Day you might have seen the small green-and-black lapel badges dutifully worn by every Premiership manager. Or maybe you saw an anti-racist banner carried across the pitch before kick-off, a message in the programme, or an anti-racist T-shirt worn during the warm-up. Or maybe not – that is, they may not have even registered. Most Premiership (and many Football League) clubs now display anti-racist messages permanently and run initiatives throughout the year.

Leon Mann is Kick It Out’s Europe and media relations co-ordinator. “Ten years ago when you saw a banner at the ground of a club like Spurs it was a real step forward,” he says. “But there was a downside. I always felt it drew attention to me as one of the few black faces in the crowd – almost as if people were turning round and saying, ‘Look, we’re doing this for you’. Now it doesn’t feel like that – it’s so common people feel it’s about them, part of what their club’s about.”

According to Mann, the campaign is now accepted by clubs – at the top level anyway – and no longer needs to push for support among high-profile stars to help get its message across. So why another week of action?

“We’re putting much more of an emphasis on community initiatives, grass-roots clubs and schools,” says Mann. “The week is about reaching out and touching people in communities like the one in Liverpool where the teenager Anthony Walker was killed [in a racist attack earlier this year], and Holbeck in Leeds where some of the London bombers lived. We’ve always had a strong community feel, but there’s more of an emphasis on that now.”

Kick It Out was always about using football as a tool to tackle issues of race and prejudice in wider society. But this year – coinciding with Ramadan and Black History Month – the week of action went down to park and playground level, providing £30,000 in grants to local groups and schools, as well as masses of campaigning and educational material – posters, wristbands, banners and the like.

It’s odd, then, that the campaign T-shirt bore the slogan “92 clubs, 12 days, no racism”. As one official at a recently formed non-League, community club commented: “It didn’t exactly include us.” The problem, as Mann says, is that it’s much harder to get national press interest in the parochial, unglamorous work of community development. Without an incident such as the one at England’s game in Madrid last year, which provoked such unanimous outrage, most of the media seem to lack the imagination to find a story in the wider issues.

Mann knows that could soon change at the World Cup in Germany next summer. “There are serious concerns,” he says. “Germany has the largest Turkish community outside Turkey – a huge Islamic population – and there needs to be some solid work done beforehand.”

Through Football Against Racism in Europe (Fare), anti-racist fans are now making some impact in other European countries, but it’s at the level of the campaign here ten to 15 years ago. The success of Fare’s initiatives among fans and Portugal’s ethnic-minority communities at Euro 2004 was partly due to UEFA’s support, says Mann, but he’s concerned that FIFA haven’t grasped the nettle in quite the same way. “They seem more concerned with how much it will cost,” he says. “They are not really seeing the potential benefits and at the moment there’s no plan for Germany 2006.” But he adds that all it needs “is for some tanked-up guy to cause trouble in a Muslim area” and the issue will race to the top of the media agenda.

In the meantime, look out for those lapel badges, or, better still, ask your kid’s school or youth team what they’ve been doing.

From WSC 226 December 2005. What was happening this month