What about this time, you ask?
Today, after champing at the bit on Twitter for the past week, Dan published a piece from his corner on the Telegraph website to argue that Chelsea Football Club should be punished for making a complaint to the FA alleging, ultimately incorrectly, that a referee had made racist comments towards one of their players. The FA, having studied the evidence, decided that the referee in question, Mark Clattenburg, had no case to answer but that the player making the complaint, Ramires, had done so “in good faith.”
When the announcement was made that charges would not be brought against Clattenburg, my first thought was, “glad that’s cleared up.” Not Dan’s. Dan sniffed controversy, and it made him dizzy with excitement.
But the self-proclaimed “Blairite cuckoo” has two glaring holes in his argument; one burnt by basic rules of law, the other by the admittedly more complex conundrum of the culture of racism in British football and society.
Let me take the first hole and clear it up quickly. If a complainant makes a complaint “in good faith” and that complaint is discovered to have not enough evidence behind it to be investigated, they do not get punished. Right; that’s that one out of the way.
And so, to the second hole. Over the last few months, racism in football has been brought into a dissatisfying spotlight. The separate cases of Luis Suarez and John Terry have led to some of the most baffling incidences of tribe mentality, culminating in Liverpool players wearing t-shirts in support of Suarez, later found guilty of using racially offensive language, and Chelsea fans booing Rio Ferdinand, the brother of a player found to have been racially abused by Terry. What these incidents have made clear is that, despite the giant strides made by anti-racist campaigns and a generally more progressive society, the problem still exists.
One of the reasons it has been able to exist for so long is because players have never felt comfortable reporting incidents of racism. In the 70s and 80s, that was because society didn’t seem to care. These days, it is due to things like the governing bodies fining a national association less for blatant racism than they fine a player for displaying branded boxer shorts.
The issue takes me back to my time playing in goals for my local club in a South Wales league. When I made the step up to youth level (a year early, I might add…) we would often get pockets of people watching us. We’d get the normal abuse you’d expect from friends of the opposition, all unrepeatable here of course. This would especially be the case when we would travel to the more remote parts of the South Wales Valleys. Being from the Cardiff area, we’d get a bit of stick from players and fans alike for things like our flashy, coloured boots. All easily laughed off. But one incident in particular was different. A few half cut men behind my goal commented on my clothing: “keeper, how come your shirt’s the same colour as your skin?” My first thought was one of bemusement – my jersey was dark orange. And then I hear the sniggering among themselves, followed by, “don’t worry though, they’re shit in goal.” For those not familiar with football’s weird world, there is an “in-joke” about black goalkeepers not being the best performers.
The incident made me angry, and I retorted with some mindless swearing of some sort. But it didn't cross my mind to report it. Maybe because the first comment wasn’t explicit enough, maybe because I merely overheard the second comment. Instead, my concern was winning the game (we did, 2-0) and then joking about it afterwards with my mates (I did, and still do).
Upon reflection though, it made me wonder if and what those people might have said since to any other visiting black players. And whether reporting it to the referee, like Ramires did, might have led to a punishment for the club and a change of behaviour from those men.
It’s hypothetical now, of course. I reacted like hundreds of players with non-white skin have over the last few decades in this country: stiff upper lip, do your talking on the pitch.
If Ramires hadn't reported what he thought he heard, no doubt he might have those same feelings.
Dan’s knee-jerk response misses the point. If Chelsea were to be punished for making a complaint based on Ramires’ allegation made in “good faith”, it would only serve to discourage other players to act on what they hear, setting the anti-racism movement back further during a time when it is facing enough problems. An out-stretched hand from the club to Clattenburg wouldn't go amiss, of course. But knowing the world of football like I do I doubt that will happen. Clattenburg may also want to seek financial compensation for his loss of earnings, and I wouldn't see that as being too unreasonable. That doesn't go to say that the FA should now throw the book at Chelsea like Dan seems to want.
“Blairite”? With such a regressive point of view? Absolutely not. “Cuckoo”? Clearly, yes.
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