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”.
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.