Racism and Respect in English Football: Time to Fight the Ugly Side of the Game

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Racism and Respect in English Football: Time to Fight the Ugly Side of the Game
Michael Steele/Getty Images

English Football has always taken pride in the steps forward that it has made to tackle racism and encourage respect in what we always thought was the beautiful game.

But after a season of scandals, affairs and alleged racism, one thing is clear. There is still plenty of work to do both on and off the pitch.

Just before Euro 2012 the BBC released a Panorama documentary that looked at the problems of antisemitic behavior and racism during football matches in both Poland and Ukraine.

The program showed violence against minorities in football stadiums and hoards of people chanting anti-Jewish and racist chants inside and outside grounds of the two Euro 2012  host nations, while a narrator chastised the two countries' FAs and police forces for not doing enough to tackle the issue.

England, however, is not such a paradise for football, and recent events have done nothing but highlight the problems that still run deep within the sport.

In April 2011 Kick It Out, the anti-racism campaign, launched a new initiative: the Y Word. The idea of the campaign was to discourage the use of the word "yid", an anti-Semitic chant used by and against Tottenham Hotspur fans throughout the grounds of the UK.

Two of the men behind the campaign were David and Ivor Baddiel. David, a famous comedian, and his brother Ivor are both Jewish and both take offense to the idea of people using the Y word so flippantly around Premier League stadiums.

Tom Shaw/Getty Images
Tottenham Hotspur were the focus of the Y-word campaign yet the video was never shown at the ground.

Although the video for the initiative featured a number top players, including Frank Lampard and Ledley King, the campaign ran into a number of problems, as Ivor told me when I spoke to him.

"The whole point was to raise awareness and create a debate, so to that extent we have been successful," said the co-producer of the Y-word video.

"It hasn’t had a huge distribution, its been shown at Chelsea and I think Fulham. It was shown before England Switzerland in June [2011].

"I'd like it to be redistributed and get shown at Tottenham, Arsenal and other places.

"The other thing is, when it was shown at Chelsea I was there, and no attention was drawn towards it before it was shown. It just appeared on the screen."

Without attention being drawn to it, the campaign is always going to struggle to get its message across to fans, despite the big names that endorse it.

Recent incidents, as indicated by the obvious examples of Luis Suarez/Patrice Evra and John Terry/Anton Ferdinand, have shown fans it's not just in the stands that offensive language and racism is prominent.

Despite the efforts of Kick It Out and The FA's Respect campaign, the 2011/12 Premier League season was dogged by problems with respect and racism on the pitch.

The incident between Evra and Suarez saw the Uruguayan banned for eight games and slapped with a £40,000 fine, yet despite being found guilty, both Liverpool FC as a club and then manager Kenny Dalglish backed their superstar forward.

Shaun Botterill/Getty Images
Evra and Suarez were involved in very high profile inccident of racial abuse during the 2011/12 season

Dalglish was even quoted as saying "He [Suarez] should never have been out in the first place," after his return from suspension.

Chelsea backed Terry immediately after allegations of racial abuse towards Anton Ferdinand were cast in his direction.

The unequivocal need for clubs to back their players, guilty or otherwise, indicates to me that they see eradicating racism as a secondary target to their primary goal of keeping their players happy and winning trophies.

Terry's recent trial has also opened the eyes of the footballing world to just how much foul and abusive language players direct to one another.

The statements in court during the case have disappointed and shocked an number of people involved in the game, with PFA chairman Clarke ­Carlisle telling the Mirror;

“There is a very high level of abusive language that ­happens on the pitch and it just seems to be par for the course.

"I don’t agree it should be that way."

We all knew that foul language was a part of the game, especially after referee David Elleray took control of an Arsenal v Millwall fixture, while mic'd up in the 1980's.

The level of personal abuse, though, that appears to be spouted on the pitch in the modern game is now overstepping the mark, but still it is accepted as part and parcel of the game.

David Elery abused by Arsenal's Tony Adams

Even after the trial, once Terry was found not guilty of racial abuse, Anton Ferdinand's brother Rio managed to stir up more controversy after he replied to a tweet where a member of the public called Terry's teammate Ashley Cole a "choc-ice," after Cole had defended Terry in the witness box.

Although Ferdinand later pulled down his reply of, "I hear you fella! Choc ice is classic hahahahahaha!!" and has since said he used the term as a description of someone who is fake, his actions have once again stirred up the race row in football and shown how little respect and how much stupidity there is in the modern game.

Kick It Out operate on a very tight budget, and if clubs limit advertising their campaign to a couple of weekends every season, when players don Kick It Out t-shirts for pre-game warm ups, will the message and education needed to eradicate this behavior from the game ever get out?

I attended over 50 Premier League and Cup matches last season and heard some vile chants from the stands, yet I never saw anyone ejected from the grounds, nor did I see someone lodge a complaint with a steward. 

I've also heard a Premier League manager spout a torrent of abuse at a coach on the opposite bench for no good reason, yet there was no mention of it in the paper.

Unacceptable behavior has been considered acceptable and the work of The FA and Kick It Out will never be enough unless players, managers and fans complain about some the antics in football.

The bite and passion of the game is what makes it great, but let's get the respect back into it too.

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