Politics, Football, Racism, and the Quenelle

All Together Now

Racism and football have all too often been bedfellows during my lifetime. In the 70s, ignorance and a historical acceptance of this plague born out of slavery meant that it was almost an accepted part of the match-going experience. By the 80s, with the introduction of more black players into the game things began to change. Nevertheless, the likes of Dave Bennett and Alex Williams, Cyril Regis and Remi Moses, Viv Anderson and yes, John Barnes received some disgusting abuse before the enlightenment finally cast its warmth upon the sport. Suddenly, those who had gleefully abused these men (who were simply trying to make a living with their natural talent) had to curb their verbal excesses. Even then, the dinosaurs were hard to socialize into being decent human beings, and as such chants were still sporadically aired. By the 1990s there was still the occasional outburst of vulgarity, normally accompanied by the sound of tumbleweed or even the occasional challenge.  With the advent of the noughties it looked like it had been all but driven from the game, and the F.A. seemed to consider the death of racism a personal triumph. But those of us in the real world knew it was still present, it was just that those small and inadequate men who had previously vocalized their thoughts, realized that the majority would not tolerate it. With the slightest bit of encouragement, a gentle nudge, and an accommodating audience, racism could still be heard up and down the land. It is no coincidence that the trajectory of ‘out of the closet’ racism coincided with changes in the political climate. From Windrush to the seventies, casual racism was something that was accepted. The Black and White Minstrel Show was, quite unbelievably, Saturday primetime entertainment until it thankfully died under the Wilson/Callaghan Labour government of the late 1970s. However, when Thatcher came into power on the back of an anti-immigration programme, the government was spouting some unpleasantness that was positively encouraged by their Fuhrer.

Hate with a Respectable Face

 The decline of the National Front was a direct result of the election of a far right government. Who needs skinheads and D.M.’s when the suits are doing the work with a façade of respectability? It sounds so much better hearing the word ‘swamped’ spoken in the Queen’s English and delivered by a politician (a supposed member of the gentler sex no less), than by a Cockney thug.  And so, for eighteen years, racism was a central feature of the British Government. The majority in this country might believe that they are ‘their own man’, unsusceptible to propaganda and social engineering, but when it is all pervasive and a part of government strategy, then it is difficult to remain devoid of influence. Thatcher’s hatred for football was evidenced in the way she made the first steps towards making the sport the bourgeois concept we all tolerate today. However, she must have also realized that in removing the catharsis for a working man to vent his spleen at the match, she was allowing it to tumble onto the streets. In response to this anger, the police who are still  institutionally racist enthusiastically bought into the Government’s stance and the violently relished in the maelstrom of their early 80’s nirvana. But then a new generation came along and voted for a brave forward looking world in the guise of Tony Blair ( “Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?”), and, if you’ve been listening at the back, the decline of a right wing government inevitably leads to the birth of new racist organisations, and so it was that the BNP started to kick their jackboots into the political arena. Only they weren’t jackboots this time, they were hush puppies as they strived to appear human. Since then UKIP has stolen their thunder and more worryingly, seem to have become something approaching ‘legitimate’. And so, in this climate it is no surprise that we have seen racism re-surface in our beloved game.

The Forgiven

Luis Suarez and John Terry were both responsible for bringing racism to the fore in the sporting arena recently. Their cases are well documented but apologists for Suarez are frighteningly numerous. “No proof he said it” they cry, ““Negrito” is a term of affection in South America!” they holler, “Evra has form” they ironically shriek. I have heard all of these things said more than once, the last being particularly disturbing and, well, racist. I imagine Evra has “form” because he actually reports what is heard, as opposed to those that Rio Ferdinand (did not) call “choc ices” (he re-tweeted someone else’s comment fact fans), who see racist utterances as simply ‘banter’ or ‘part of the game’.  Unlike Suarez, John Terry was caught red handed, yet it was Anton Ferdinand who was demonized, while the media clamoured for a Terry recall to the national team, and the perpetrator then had the brass neck to criticise the F.A., who should have kicked him out of the game. Once that furore had died down, Alan Hansen referred to black players as ‘coloured’ as Lee Dixon visibly shriveled in horror next to him, and gallantly tried to bail Uncle Al out. The BBC responded by…oh? He’s still there?

Finally, Stan Collymore has revealed the levels of racist abuse he has received, most recently as a result of criticizing Luis Suarez’s recent dive (no need for italics) against Aston Villa. None of it is repeatable here but Stan’s habit of re-tweeting the stuff has been an unpleasant and necessary evil, if only for the public to consider how they might feel had they been on the receiving end. Collymore has been quick to point out that he deserves abuse for some of his past misdemeanours and takes it with a tolerant grace, but some of the racist comments have been very ugly indeed and he is right to have reported them. So, with the Collymore case, we have seen racism move from on the field to off it.

A mixture of creamed fish, chicken, or meat, sometimes combined with breadcrumbs, with a light egg binding. It is best poached.

I never thought I would be defending Nicolas Anelka. The whole “quenelle” debate has seen a lot of information lost in translation. When it all kicked off, I mailed a member of my family in France for their take on the gesture. Is it anti-Semitic or anti-establishment? The reply I received was typically, French and philosophically deep. “Both” he said, no doubt stroking his goatee and adjusting his beret (one for the Little Englanders there).  He then suggested that it depended on the location and the intent.  What is certain is that it began as an anti-establishment gesture. Dieudonne, the originator of the salute, is a French comedian who is a self-professed anti-Zionist. Now as Sid Vicious once eruditely remarked “I’ve met the man on the street – and he’s a cunt”. Unfortunately for Dieudonne, he has found this to be the case, as a number of racists/anti-Semites have come to the conclusion that Zionism is the same as Judaism and have taken it upon themselves to pose doing the salute at inappropriate and distasteful locations, most notably places of Jewish tragedy such as Auschwitz.

Dieudonne has suggested the gesture was one of defiance by slaves in Martinique and that he and Anelka, as descendents of slaves, use it with that intent in mind. I don’t believe Anelka is a stupid man, and I am sure he appreciates the nuances of the gesture and that it is not anti-Semitic. However, he was misguided in bringing it into the game as were all of the above cases. He must have known of the controversy in France but perhaps banked on the ignorance of people like me, who before the big fuss, had no idea what it was. Ignorance can be bliss. From what I can tell, Dieudonne has blurred the lines between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism, but I am yet to be convinced he is a demon of Bin Laden proportions, nor an anti_Semite despite some of the horrendous and utterly needless things he has said. Still, Anelka is one of them thar pesky Muslims, and Dieudonne describes himself as a Christian Muslim, so both are fair game in the current climate. The British have always had enemies; the Dutch, the French, the Spanish, the Germans, the Russians, and now the Muslims. We all need one, otherwise who else to blame? Those that make the decisions? Heaven forbid. The quenelle engendered a mini storm at Everton Football Club when Lukaku posted a video in which he defended Anelka.  The club swiftly took it down, an unsurprising move given the likes of Martin Samuels asking for a sixteen match ban for Anelka, based on those dished out to Suarez and Terry. So anti-Semitism (if it was) is worse than anti-black racism (which it definitely was in Terry’s case) is it Martin? That sounds a bit, well, racist. But should the club have been so hasty? Are sportsmen not allowed to express their opinions anymore? Imagine how much poorer the world would be without the likes of Muhammed Ali? Oh the debates we could have…but I am tired now.

“(It) is to remind me that we’re all the same under the skin” – Keith Richards on his skull ring

The point I have been trying to make is that racism has no part in the game. How and why people think like that in the 21st Century is beyond me, but if they do, it would be preferable if they kept it to themselves. Football is a great game, full of drama, passion, and much by way of Machievellian misdemeanours. Have the rivalry, admire some clubs, despise others, but don’t make it personal. If you do, you are no friend of mine.

Peace, Love and Solidarity

Fidel Smith

Santa Chaterris.






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