Archive for December 2018

A comment on Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher’s remarks about Raheem Sterling.

It was just a shock to hear them finally say it.

 

“What is the perception of Raheem Sterling in this country for most people, who buy papers and read media stuff online?” asked Jamie Carragher, co-presenting Sky Sports’ Monday Night Football show.  “The perception”, he said, immediately answering his own question, “is of a young, flash, black kid from London”. He continued: ““Anyone reading that, anyone writing that – I can assure you that is absolute, utter nonsense. It’s garbage. Raheem Sterling’s a mouse.” [1]

 

It was a relief to hear them say what so many had been thinking for so long, and to know that a conversation about this subject could at last begin. It was such a relief to hear the issue acknowledged at last. But, on waking this morning, there are further questions. Why did it take so long for Carragher and Gary Neville, one of the show’s other presenters, to speak up? Why did being perceived as a young flash black kid from London – which would not have been a crime in any case – lead to levels of abuse the like of which Neville said he had never seen?

 

Imagine that you are back at school and the senior pupils announce in assembly that a quiet and friendly classmate of yours has been mercilessly targeted by the biggest bullies in the playground for years on end, that they get it now, that he had come to them in confidence before and could not believe why it was happening. Your reaction might be: “well, yes, we knew that, we’ve seen him suffer for ages, at least now you can start to sort it out”. Or your reaction might be: “I saw it happening but didn’t want to say anything in case it turned the anger towards me.” Or your reaction might be: “why are you telling us? You’re the seniors, it’s your job to go to the teachers and sort it out.”

 

Whatever your response, it is obvious that football’s teachers – the Football Association and the football clubs around the country – and football’s seniors – the ex-players and pundits, the editors, the producers and the older commentators and journalists – have collectively failed Raheem Sterling. They have treated the abuse he gets as part and parcel of the game when it is clear from Neville’s own words that it is not. Just consider that Neville was in the same dressing room as Beckham the season he returned from his red card against Argentina in the 1998 World Cup, a season when the abuse against his best friend reached astonishing levels – and that Sterling was targeted by hatred that made this pale in comparison. That is a reality too horrific for many to contemplate.

 

This reality is so awful that many people will become numb to it and look away. There is something about discussing racism that makes many uncomfortable. Many black people often downplay it because it is too painful and don’t want to be seen to make a fuss. Many white people often downplay it because it is too grim to admit, yes, I see those attitudes among my friends and family. It’s why we move on so quickly from the game’s race-related scandals.

 

It’s too painful to reflect upon, isn’t? Many of us go to football to escape but here it is, putting society’s ugliness under a microscope. Eniola Aluko, one of the finest forwards her country has seen, saw her international career ended as the result of which her national team manager was found guilty of racially abusing her. [2]

 

When Rio Ferdinand’s family saw John Terry in court due to a charge of racial abuse against Ferdinand’s brother Anton, Ferdinand later revealed that “there were bullets in the post…My mum had her windows smashed and bullets put through her door, and ended up in hospital because of the stress.” At the time many might have seen this harassment as a series of isolated incidents – maybe many didn’t want to look, it was too painful – but now, in the current political climate, we can see that harassment as the extreme end of something worrying, unsettling and deeply wrong within our society. When we look at that harassment it perhaps explains why Ashley Cole, a pupil called upon to ask if he had seen a popular pupil abusing a fellow classmate, decided not to tell tales. [3]

 

That episode involving the two Ferdinands, Terry and Cole arguably ended the career of one of the greatest centre-backs the country has known – and he wasn’t even anywhere near the incident in question at the time. Most poignantly, it tore childhood friends apart, people who had come through the brutal world of professional football together. Whether or not they have been reconciled is not the point. The point is that these toxic dynamics have been allowed to play out time and again and the school’s authorities have chosen to look the other way.

 

Perhaps you find my school analogy more than a little patronising, maybe you find it infantilising or that it doesn’t fully work. That’s a shame – because the more I watch Neville’s comments on Raheem Sterling the more I see a schoolkid in the corner, getting pulverised or ignored by everyone who walks past, and every passerby knowing that, in this school of English football, there are some kids who just deserve it, you know the ones, some kids who are just due a kicking, you know how it goes, they might get spat on each lunchtime and maybe even punched now and then but they’ll come through it, they’ll be fine one day and we’ll all have a laugh about it looking back. Or maybe they won’t – maybe there’ll be a day when they don’t come into school anymore, where no-one will really know the kid well enough to ask why, and no-one will have the courage to name the bullies, because they are still there and scarier than before, they’ve got rich and powerful parents, and eventually no-one will talk about the kid, mention their names, and not worry about any of that because there is a new kid to bully now, a new reason to keep our heads down, get on with it, pass by the phlegm-covered kid and shamefully say nothing.

 

—————–

 

[1] The full transcript of this segment has kindly been provided by Football365.com:

https://www.football365.com/news/full-sterling-transcript-neville-carra-discuss-abuse

 

[2] The incident involving Eniola Aluko is detailed here: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/football/2017/10/18/mark-sampson-found-guilty-racially-abusing-eni-aluko-drew-spence/

 

[3] The incident involving the Ferdinands, Terry and Cole is detailed here:

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/football/teams/england/11094964/Rio-Ferdinand-calls-John-Terry-an-idiot-and-says-he-does-not-speak-to-Chelsea-captain-or-Ashley-Cole-after-race-row.html

 

This is why you shout racist abuse at black footballers.

You go to football matches and shout racist abuse at black footballers because you have paid your money and so for the next ninety minutes you own every footballer in that stadium,  especially the black ones. You own their strengths and their flaws and everything you know or suspect about their personal lives. For that time, your mouth becomes a firehose of hate. You look at this black man and you think: this is my victim, my ground, my England.

Why is this your England? Because just enough people tell you that this is so. There are plenty of people around you in the crowd who will listen to you roar abuse and who’ll still share a drink and a joke with you at half-time and after the match. In relation to racism, they’ll fall into a few different groups. A few will be just as vocal as you. Others will wish they had the courage to shout as loudly as you do but they won’t, not yet. Others still will have black friends at home but will act as if it’s not their problem – they won’t even report you to the stewards. They will know they are cowards and a few of them will later tell their black friends how awful it was, looking anxiously in their friends’ eyes for some form of forgiveness for their inaction, as if black people are suddenly the fairy godmothers of football.

You think this is your England because you read the most popular newspapers in the country and they agree with you – they agree with you that black footballers, like children, must be seen and not heard, that the second they decide to do anything more than score spectacular goals they become a threat. Those newspapers remind you daily that there is no aspect of criminality to which a black footballer cannot be connected.

You think this is your England because – well, why wouldn’t you? You have a political system whose immigration laws have long discriminated against the exact same social group from whom these black footballers claim heritage. You listen to your radio and one of its prime-time presenters has a history of racism stretching back decades. You watch your television and one of its most high-profile producers once edited the most popular newspaper in the country at a time when it was referring to African men women and children as cockroaches at the very moment that they were drowning in the Mediterranean. You log onto Twitter and you see one of the most-followed presenters rolling his eyes as if you are just some lone wolf of racism and have not been emboldened by the years of hard-boiled bigotry that his media outlet and others have been diligently pumping out.

But you are at this game screaming because, at some level, you are worried that this is not your England, and this stadium is the safest place you can take revenge on black footballers for making you feel this way. These black men are crawling all over your football teams and your TV screens and your culture. If you stop for a moment you will worry about how many people seem to love this England, even with all these black men in its national team – and maybe, to your dismay, that’s even why they love this team more.

The black footballer is within earshot so you call him a black cunt in the hope that your words will land with the force of a whip. You hope the black player will respond there and then, in your mind making a champion out of you, but he does so later, online and at length. Somewhere, in a newsroom or a living room, there are countless others with the same bile in them as you, slightly more confident today than they were yesterday.

You still think this is your England because there are not enough people in your immediate circle, even if they disagree with you, who have the courage to tell you differently. Your England is small, bitter, brutal and fearful, and it always has been. Your England thinks it has black friends but would never allow them to date your sons and daughters. Your England desperately needs one corner of a stadium, one section of an angry crowd, its safe space. You ruled the world and now you can’t even rule a touchline. You can never stop shouting because if you hold your tongue for long enough the appalled silence in the crowd around you will forever remind you of what you have lost.