A Year After Terry and Suarez, Racism Looms Large in English Football
Racism, racism, racism. It's been over a year since John Terry shouted "f**king black c***" at QPR's Anton Ferdinand, but barely a week has passed without the r-word polluting coverage of English football.
When Terry-gate broke we were already gasping from the toxic fallout of an alleged incident between Liverpool's Luis Suarez and Patrice Evra of Manchester United.
It would take the pen-pushers until December for that one to be resolved. After two months muddied by some of most ill-advised PR ever conducted by a professional football club, Suarez was fined and handed an eight-match ban by the Football Association after being found guilty of racial abuse.
We'd waited long enough. What we needed then was closure. But what we got instead was the infamous handshake incident at Old Trafford and with it another excuse to keep racism on the front and back pages.
Terry-gate was already doing a good job of that, of course.
By now the Terry affair was four months old. The England captaincy had been taken away from him, but—bizarrely—there would be no criminal trial until Terry returned from international duty in July.
In the meantime, the r-word stalked the highest corridors of English football relentlessly—not least as the accused stood proud representing his nation at Euro 2012. He had every right, of course, but that's not the point.
Terry was eventually cleared by a Magistrates' Court. Only then did The FA decide to bring their own case and—nearly a year after the incident took place and having allowed Terry to represent the England national team in the meantime—a panel they appointed found him guilty.
Time for racism to go away, we thought.
Not so, though the alleged racist abuse of England Under-21 players in Serbia (it's hard to use the word "alleged" when you listen to the clip here) is clearly not something for English football to be held accountable for.
This time, if anything, English football was victim to racism. A nation leaped on the opportunity to reinforce its vehement opposition to such attitudes and we demanded that justice be served immediately.
We shared in disgust and impatience that something be done. But was it a case of "those in glass houses..."?
On Wednesday night, two weeks after alleged monkey chants were directed at Danny Rose in Serbia, pictures emerged from Stamford Bridge of a Chelsea fan making monkey gestures in the direction of Manchester United's Danny Welbeck.
That would be bad enough, but it came just four days after Chelsea made an official complaint against referee Mark Clattenburg, who it's alleged racially abused one of their players during their 3-2 defeat to Manchester United at the weekend.
Racism, racism, racism.
Things have got so bad that there are discussions under way to launch a breakaway black footballers' union in England. There's also talk of bringing in the NFL's "Rooney Rule", which would oblige clubs to shortlist at least one minority candidate when hiring a new manager.
It's an embarrassment to English football that such notions are even being considered, but something clearly needs to be done.
It starts with better educating the football fans of tomorrow.
Kenny Dalglish was the man in charge at Liverpool during the Suarez affair. Here's what he said in an interview with TalkSport today:
Let’s help people if they need help. People have to understand what [words or phrases] means, what it implies, what is the correct terminology, what’s the wrong thing to say?
There are obvious ones out there you can’t say, and no normal person would dream of saying that. But give us a guideline. Educate us. We need an education.
Some people won't be taught, of course. And you have to imagine the idiot at Stamford Bridge knew full well what he was doing was both inappropriate and offensive. That's why he did it.
Pockets of racism will always exist, be it on the field or in the stands. It's how English football deals with them that matters, and for that we must examine the failings of the Suarez and Terry cases for examples of what not to do next time.
Swift justice and transparent, harsher penalties are vital.
The longer a case drags on, the greater attention is drawn to it. Did it really take two months for The FA to gather what they needed for the Suarez case?
And did Terry really deserve a shorter ban than Suarez, for what was basically the identical crime?
I'd argue both should have been banned for the rest of the season. Therein lies the strongest message possible that English football will not stand for racist abuse. And therein forms a precedent for how future cases will be dealt with.
All we have are deterrents.
And all we can hope is those lessons have been learned. The Clattenburg issue needs to be dealt with with maximum priority, as does the allegation against the Chelsea fan last night.
Should Clattenburg be found guilty, he should never referee again.
Did Suarez and Terry get off lightly?
Should the Chelsea fan be found guilty, he should never be allowed in a football stadium again. Chelsea have proved before they are ready to act in such cases and should be praised for doing so.
But let's not get carried away.
Amid all the hysteria, we should remember that racism remains extremely rare in English football. The game has come a long way from the 1970s and 80s and it's wrong to highlight these cases as being indicative of a trend.
They are not a trend. But neither is it acceptable for even the smallest minority to act like they should be.
Looking back, it's hard not to conclude that both Suarez and Terry got off lightly. That's not a reflection on their respective crimes, just a clear-headed take on the weight of penalty you or I would face if we racially abused a colleague at work.
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