“It was just black this, N word, throwing bananas and coins.” – Alex Williams
Most people associated with football in the modern-era would say that they have come across, heard or read racism in the beautiful game. Whether this may be during a live match or simply via social media, racism still scourges football, which many think is the result of people not doing enough – or simply sweeping it under the rug.
Although it is fair to say the sport has come a long way in terms of this prejudice, much more needs to be done to make sure it is eradicated entirely.
It was 1889 when Arthur Wharton became the first professional black football player when he signed a contract with Rotherham. This was somewhat of an anomaly, as young black men struggled to get into the highest level of the game for some 80 years before several clubs began to realise the simplicity of increasing the range of players to choose from when recruiting.
The early 80’s would see the emergence of several football squads containing a handful of black professionals. However, speaking to the Guardian in 2012, former Manchester City goalkeeper Alex Williams describes a hostile and antagonistic era for the sport. “We played the second leg away of the league cup at the Old Den (home to Millwall), and it was horrendous. It was just black this, N word, throwing bananas and coins.”
Williams, who joined City in 1980, felt he was ‘lucky’ since the squad already contained a few black professionals. Williams goes on to describe the scenes whilst playing away to Everton. “I remember playing Everton, and I ran out to the Everton end and a lad climbed on top of the barrier with a programme, and he folded it up into a cross and he lit it, à la Ku Klux Klan.”
Fair to say, the amount of racism within football has since been decreased thanks to organisations such as Kick it Out – either that or culprits’ tastes in dealing out racism has altered.
Hidden behind a screen
While punishments for racist actions both on and off the pitch have hardened, the emergence of social media has dealt another blow in tackling the situation. Players and fans alike enjoy their social life and use many different websites and apps to express themselves. However, the internet is a breeding ground for racism and what’s worse; it’s there for everyone to see. Premier league players such as England international, Micah Richards have deleted their Twitter accounts due to online abuse.
Old actions, new reaction
In the past ten years, racism has seemed to rear its ugly head in numerous ways. With millions of people tuning in to watch football on at least a weekly basis, racist actions are often broadcast to a large, worldwide audience. This could be a blessing, as it may well boost the campaign to clamp down on it; or it may be a curse as it sets an awful example for young viewers.
The re-emergence of banana throwing seems to be a common headline on a Sunday morning. Earlier in 2014, Barcelona full-back Dani Alves was subject to a banana-throwing incident. The Brazilian took it with the same attitude as many would have hoped, by peeling the banana whilst gearing up to take a corner and using it as an energy-boosting snack. Although his reaction was met with hilarity, it was a perfect example of the new ignorance people in the football world must face racism with.
Barcelona’s opposition on the night, Villareal, were incidentally fined in excess of £9,850 and the culprit was identified, had his season ticket revoked and was banned for life. Dani Alves’ reaction kick-started a worldwide campaign against racism via social media. Many fellow professionals posted pictures of themselves eating a banana to show their support of the fight against racism in the game.
The Football Association are yet to convince Kick it Out that they are fully committed to clamping down on racism. The anti-discrimination organisation were less than impressed with the four and eight game bans given to John Terry and Luis Suarez respectively. Trustee, Leroy Rosenior told FourFourtwo that he believes a minimum 10 game ban is more adequate for any racist behaviour. There is no denying it. Many punishments handed out for racist behaviour have been met with confusion. Some questioning the justification for a racist fan being fined and banned for life when a player will pay a fine, which is a slither of their weekly wage bill, and take a break for a few games.
Times have changed – a little
While a few still speak about the fight to eradicate the problem pessimistically, the simple fact that progress is not immediate is being forgotten. If we compared the sort of volatile atmospheres in football stadia around the globe which leave victims of racism forlorn figures on the pitch over the last 40 years, it is clear to see how, albeit slowly, attitudes are being changed.