Archive for November 2014

My response to The Times on Malky Mackay.

This is 2014.  This is actually Britain, in 2014. Where Jeremy Clarkson uses the N-word and doesn’t get so much as a minor fine by the BBC.  Where Malky Mackay uses language on his work phone that is so vile, so prejudiced that it reminds me of the BNP flyers that used to get dropped through my front door during the local by-election in the late Nineties: where Mackay then goes on to walk into another job to relatively little public concern.  And I am trying to keep a lid on this, really I am. Because I never really used to write about racism.  When I first began to write about football, I wrote about things like Xavi’s passing and Kanu’s dribbling and AC Milan tearing every single team apart in the Sacchi years. You know, on-the-pitch, football stuff.  The majesty of Van Basten’s first touch, etc, etc.  But now, I am seeing things about the sport that I love that I cannot ignore.  I am seeing racism encouraged either actively, via apology or via apathy.

I have just read an article by Alyson Rudd in The Times, entitled “Mackay’s move proves that you can learn from your mistakes”.  The article is no longer available for free on the Times website, so I will provide you with a summary. You may feel that I have taken the following quotes out of context, so I can only reproduce them at some length and allow you to make your own judgement.

Rudd states that the text messages sent by Mackay – she omits to mention that they were sent to members of Cardiff staff apart from Iain Moody – “do not prove beyond doubt that the two men are racist or sexist or homophobic”.

Let us look at some of the texts that were sent.

One of them stated that there was “nothing like a Jew that likes money slipping through his fingers”.

This is language that could have been taken straight from the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

A South Korean player was signed by Cardiff, to which Mackay’s response was “Fkn chinkys. Fk it.  There’s enough dogs in Cardiff for us all to go round.”

“Fkn chinkys”. Fkn chinkys.  If that is not racist, I do not know what is.

One of them referred to an official from another club as “a snake, a gay snake”, and “the homo..not to be trusted”, and another to “an independently minded young homo”.

Now, some might not think that is homophobic, but to my mind that is not the language of someone who is particularly accepting or even tolerant of gay people.

Of a player’s female agent, he states to the player in question that “I bet you love her falsies”. That is sexist to put it mildly.

And so on.  Rudd’s article continues:

“It cannot be concluded that the victims are disliked purely because they are black or female or gay. When annoyed or overly exuberant, some people will fall into disrespectful language because it is, they think, witty or even perceptive. It is, they might think, even a bit daring, close to the bone and a way to let off steam.”

There is no mention in her article of the anti-Semitism or the racism towards Asians, which is pretty eye-watering, but it is pretty clear to me that the language used to describe women, blacks and gay people is indicative of a strong dislike of those groups.  What is more, Rudd makes the argument that this language may be “close to the bone”.  Let us look at the context. In a sport where women, gay people and black people readily face discrimination, it is fairly obvious that this language is not that of daring.  It is the language of entitlement, of the status quo.

Rudd then suggests that by giving Mackay “a public platform and a chance to display his humility and acceptance that he was a fool to stoop so low, the campaign against discrimination will be boosted.”  She concludes that “there are others out there who fool about and trade insults and stray into unacceptable terminology. Mackay is proof both that such mistakes can lose you a job and that learning from them can give you another chance.”

What can be said here, coherently, through a fast-falling glaze of fury?  There are other ways to give people public platforms if they want to make a show of contrition than putting them in charge of yet another group of players whom they can discriminate against.  There are no indications that Mackay was offered the job because he had learned anything from his mistakes. For goodness’ sake. Mackay is not Malcolm X returning from pilgrimage and renouncing his views on racial prejudice.  He is a talented manager who imposed his bigoted beliefs on a club for a time, and has merely found another club where the chairman has a history of not finding bigotry a problem.  That’s it.

I find it frightening that the author either believed every word of this article or published it without conviction in the hope that it would be provocative – to “spark a debate”, as if this were a game. We are currently in a climate that is as hostile to ethnic minorities as I can remember – as hostile, in fact, as those days in the late Nineties when the local area was so racist that black people had faeces posted through their letterboxes.  We are in an environment where the Football Association is worrying slow to act upon racism in the game, and where we need mainstream journalists more than ever to show institutional support for those being marginalised.  And instead we see editorials that purport to provide nuanced, alternative analyses, but which instead rigidly enforce the structures of discrimination that continue to blight English football.  And I can find no better way to describe this approach than both irresponsible and dangerous.

On Malky Mackay: why prejudice may be costing England World Cups.

Prejudice may be costing England World Cups.  Why do I say this? Well, we haven’t won it since 1966, and we’ve come pretty close twice, in 1986 and 1990.  We’ve barely had a sniff since then.  In major international tournaments, these games often come down to to the smallest margins, with the last two World Cups having been at the very end of extra time.  We hear so often that every small factor can make the difference – fitness, conditioning, whether the players are happy within the camp. But what about prejudice?

The Germany team who won in Brazil had players drawn from all over the country, and from diverse communities.  They had players from the poorer East, and players of Turkish, Albanian and Ghanaian descent.  They had an environment where gay players could feel protected, with their coach Joachim Low stating in January 2014 that Thomas Hitzlsperger, who came out after he retired, was someone who “should be treated with respect from all sides”.  Inclusivity isn’t just some wishy-washy concept dreamed up by navel-gazing liberals.  It’s good for your football team.  There was a time, after all, when even Brazil barred black players from its leagues, which is something when you consider this is the country that would later produce Pele and Garrincha. It is entirely logical that you stand the greatest chance of success if you draw your talent from the widest possible pool. And that talent has to be happy to work for you, to perform for you.

This is why anyone hoping for England to achieve their true potential at international tournaments should be concerned by the FA’s inaction over Malky Mackay.  Mackay has been given a new job at Wigan Athletic only months after the revelation of a series of racist, sexist and homophobic text messages that he sent to his friend and to members of Cardiff staff.  These text messages, based upon subsequent tweets from former players of his, were indicative of a wider atmosphere where those from ethnic minorities often felt less than welcome.  The FA has so far failed to fine or even reprimand Mackay for his actions.

“Why should Wigan wait?” his defenders may ask.  “Hasn’t Mackay already suffered enough in the court of public opinion?”  Yet if they pose such questions, then they are probably not thinking about all those talented people who are dissuaded from working with people like Mackay because of his views and corresponding behaviour.  They are not thinking of the damage being done to the English game as a result.  They are not thinking of those people, who count black people, gay people and women among their dearest relatives, who would do anything rather than work in an environment allegedly as toxic as that which Mackay ultimately created at Cardiff.

All of that talent is being silently lost, week after month after year.  For all we know, so much may have been lost already, long before those people got to work with managers as enlightened as Sir Bobby Robson.  There are the anecdotal stories, and so many of us know a handful of them: the stories about those companies you wouldn’t play for or those clubs you wouldn’t join because of their attitudes to black people, to gay people, to Jews, to Asians, to women.  They’re the stories that come out over dinner tables with your trusted and loved ones.  The City law firm you avoided because the anti-Semitism from one of the senior partners was off the scale.  The professional football team your mate halted trials with because of what they said about gay people.  The commercial banker who went off on a light-hearted rant about bloody shirtlifters just after you signed that deal.

Imagine what England’s footballing infrastructure is losing every single time the FA is faced with an event like the Mackay scandal and it fails swiftly and firmly to rule that this is not remotely acceptable within the fabric of the game.  Just think about the opportunities that are being wasted. Look how little time it has taken for previously unheralded managers to sweep into the Premier League and deliver outstanding results.  And now imagine the young untested coaches from ethnic minority backgrounds who are looking for someone to take just one chance on them. They are out there just as surely as Brendan Rodgers and Mauricio Pochettino were once out there.  Of course they are.  This is England we’re talking about, one of the most diverse countries in the world. Imagine the brilliant specialists and the coaches and the players who are thinking, “you know what, I love the game, I just don’t fancy working with such a lack of support.  Life is too short to try to change these institutions from the inside”.  And some might say that if they were tough enough they’d put up with prejudice like this, and if so they’d be missing the point.  Professional footballers and football managers are plenty tough enough. Many of them have dealt with the possibility of rejection their entire careers. They’re not looking for handouts or special status, just the opportunity to be respected and judged on the same basis as everyone else.

And now Malky Mackay is walking unhindered into a job at Wigan, where he will determine the fates of many more footballers and the destination of many more millions of pounds.  And we see the foundations of English football weaken a little more, as we see other countries and professions scooping up the talent that our game with its apathy towards prejudice consistently casts aside.  And, finally, we can look at Germany with a degree of envy, and wonder why we too can’t just get it together.

 

Rape is bad. Police, write it down.

Argh! This is too much.  I have to write this.  I have to write a university reference for a former colleague but I have to write this first.  I have put myself on a timer so I do not run away with myself.  Right.  Shivering primarily with anger, and also with the aftershock of a cup of black coffee consumed on an empty stomach, here goes.

Rape is bad.  Rape is very very bad.  It is horrific.  So when a woman walks into a police station, let alone picks up the phone to call in such an assault, the police should be all ears.  Yet it appears that they aren’t.  A new report has been released – I can scarcely contain my rage as I type this, I feel like stepping away from my keyboard and howling in fury at my empty room – which reveals that “police officers fail to record a quarter of sexual offences – including rapes – and one-third of violent attacks.”

The article in The Independent continues: “More than 800,000 offences are left off the official crime figures each year in England and Wales…HMIC condemned the performance as ‘inexcusably poor’ and accused officers of failing victims, but found no evidence of a systematic attempt by police to cover up the true scale of crime.”

Argh! Where to start?  Where to start? Where to finish? I am on a timer so I have to finish soon so let’s go.  A quarter.  A goddamn quarter.  So one in four times that a woman gets in touch about a sexual offence, one in three times that someone gets in touch about a violent attack, you are effectively telling them that you don’t care enough about their suffering to write it down. To write it down.  They have been assaulted and you can’t even make a record of it.  “Oh it’s not that simple.  Think of all the paperwork.” No it is that simple.  It is literally your job.  That is actually what you are paid to do.  You may be afraid of the ramifications of proceeding with her case: after all, the perpetrator may be someone particularly powerful in your community, or someone you vaguely know socially. But guaranteed, guaranteed, you have not known anything like the fear of the person who has come to you.

Perhaps I sound judgmental.  But then I am thinking of the 800,000 victims of offences who are simply being left to grin and bear it, and of the fact that in the vast, overwhelming majority of cases where women make allegations of sexual assault they are not lying.  They are telling the truth and it has taken them tremendous courage to do so.  Heroic courage, actually.  To pick up the phone, still less to arrive at a place ready for medical examination after what they have been through, is a level of bravery of which most people would not readily imagine themselves capable. And those who don’t report their assaults have made the depressingly pragmatic calculation, based on statistics like these – a quarter! – that they won’t be believed, respected or protected if they do so.

And this is the other thing.  Whilst HMIC did not find any attempt of a systematic attempt to cover up the levels of offences, I suggest that, in the absence of such a conspiracy, they found something far worse.  At least, with a conspiracy, there is a sense that after you have rooted out the orchestrators it will all be fine.  But this – this looks like a culture of messy, entrenched prejudice, of casual disregard for victims, with no indication where it will fail them next.

 

I have written this only because I did not want to sit and shake my head in frustration, and thought it would be more productive to type this in twenty minutes rather than say nothing.  I don’t want to be in a world where I am desensitised to statistics like this, and I don’t think most people do either.

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(This is the first in an occasional series of blogs, called P.O.O.P, or “Painfully Obvious Opinion Pieces”.  It is for all those articles that I begin to write by thinking, what the hell, it’s the 21st century, I can’t believe I’m even having to say this, but some things have to be said, if only for the record.)

Boris the Killer Clown elected as London mayor

London is bracing itself for an uncertain future after a killer clown was elected as its new mayor.  The floppy-haired circus creature, known only on the ballot paper as Boris, won with a Twitter campaign composed entirely of emojis. During the victory parade, the clown celebrated its win by reaching out to a jubilant supporter and tearing both his arms off.

“I’m going to make London’s citizens laugh again if it kills them”, howled the clown, as its terrified fans ran screaming from the streets. One of them, professional lad John Ellis, was almost too distraught to speak to the press, but relented once they offered him a retweet. “That guy the clown slaughtered was my friend”, sobbed John, pausing his tears to snap a selfie next to the bloody, lifeless form. “We elected Boris for the banter, but we never knew he’d do this to Leon.” In the depths of his grief, the student looked up to see a Romanian street cleaner ambling past. “LOL a scapegoat!”, he yelled, grabbing a nearby pitchfork. “Got to go.”

The killer clown then inflamed tensions by stating that it pitied those countries who had not experienced British colonial rule, a remark which resulted in the spontaneous combustion from self-loathing of his black and Asian staff.  When confronted about its latest praise of wholesale exploitation, it responded with a swift succession of fart sounds, and then tore out the reporter’s throat.