Racism in football:

Football has always been about seperation and rivalry, on the pitch. However, due to football being many people’s ‘way of life’, the passion shown on the pitch has spilt into society: separating classes and ethnicities. Unfortunately, one aspect of off the pitch separation is racism which has been evident from Paul Cannoville and has passed onto modern era footballers such as Raheem Sterling.

Racism is an act of prejudice/discrimination or hatred which is directed at someone due to their colour/ethnicity or nationality. Racism can be revealed through people’s actions/attitudes. It can also be reflected in systems or institutions. However, not all racism is obvious. An example of this is company’s not employing people of colour. 

Racism in football during the 1970s and 80s was rife and a breeding ground for the far right (National Front) who would openly recruit racists outside football grounds and on the terraces. This was due to the rising amount of black footballers who played in the English football leagues due to a rise of migration. Many footballers were discriminated against due to their colour and ethnicity, a black footballer who faced mass racism on a constant basis was West-London born Paul Cannoville.

In 1982, Paul Cannoville made his debut for Chelsea Football Club. During a debut, supporters usually support their players as they should do during every game. However, Paul Cannoville made his debut against a backdrop of racist chants/slurs from his own ‘supporters’,  the racism directed at him ‘cut through him like a blade’ as he walked onto the pitch at Selhurst Park, April 1982. Years of strife and toil, poverty, homelessness, four months in prison, racist abuse from all walks of life – Canoville had come through it all to realise the impossible dream, only to be once again singled out for the colour of his skin. Racism followed throughout the entirety of his footballing career, on the streets and in the stands, as shown in the ITV documentary ‘Out of their skin’. The same racism was directed towards many other black footballers who’s aim was to play football peacefully in a white coloured dominated sport. Although Paul Cannoville retired 24 years ago, he still believes the same racism directed at him is directed towards black footballers of the modern era ‘it’s coming back’. In a recent interview with ‘The Independent’ Paul Cannoville pointed to recent acts of racism, such as the banana incident of a north London Derby where a Tottenham fan threw a banana at Arsenals Gabonese forward Pierre-Emerick Aubamyeng ‘. He told the independent about his fears of the same racism that he experienced creeping back into the English football leagues ‘It’s frightening, I had bananas threw at me, why is it happening again?’ and his belief that ‘Racism is giving the country a bad name at the time of national problems such as Brexit’. Paul Cannoville and the majority of the football community can only hope for racism to soon be taken out of football and society but Cannoville doesn’t believe the anti-racism football acts do much to prevent it ‘They don’t punish enough, Fa and UEFA have to do a lot more’.

Although the national front continued to exist into the 1980s, the decade also saw the rise of anti-racism groups set up by football fans. Football supporters of Leeds United created ‘Leeds United Fans Against Racism’ and Newcastle United supports created ‘Geordies are Black and White’, to name two. These groups played a role alongside Managers, players, Football Clubs and the Professional Footballers’ Association in combating the influence of groups like the National Front. 

Following the tragic Hillsbrough disaster, the subsequent Taylor report and the introduction of all-seater stadia, was undoubtedly a factor in reducing visible and audible racist incidents: allowing police and stewards to isolate and identify racist offenders. The 1990’s also saw the formation of ‘Kick Racism out of Football’ and ‘Show Racism the Red Card’, which were to play a role in educating fans and making messages against racism prominent. Subsequently, racism in football was on the decline during the 90’s and the start of the 21st Century. To be clear, there were still fans who held racist views, they just knew that if they expressed them in stadiums, they could face arrest and bans.

Although, some positivity was brought upon due to groups like these,  people associated with football still believed more could be done. Rio Ferdinand slated ‘Kick it Out’ in his autobiography ‘two sides’ where he stated that ‘they paid lip service to the idea of taking a strong stand and then went missing when it counted’ after John Terry was racist towards his brother Anton. His beliefs against ‘kick it out’ was shown when he refused to wear a pre match shirt promoting the organisation. 

Throughout the latter stages of the 2010s decade, it has appeared that racism has ‘crept’ back into English football through the use of modern technology and newspaper article headlines singling out black footballers. A prime example of a footballer, who is part of the BAME community, that has recently experienced a mass amount of racism is Manchester City and England forward Raheem Sterling. 

Raheem Sterling believes ‘Newspapers have helped fuel racism into football’ yet continues to stand against racism and act as an activist and role model for future generations. Newspapers have constantly labelled the forward in a negative light naming him a ‘prem rat of the carribean’, ‘obscene’, and a ‘footie idiot’. The Daily Mails comparison of reporting when Phil Foden, a young white footballer, and Raheem Sterling, a young black footballer, bought their mothers a £2million property is an evident example of ‘newspapers fuelling racism’. When Phil Foden bought his mother a property, the Daily Mail headlined ‘Man City starlet Foden buys new £2m home for his mum’. However, when Raheem Sterling purchased a £2m property for his mother, the Daily Mail reported ‘young Man City footballer on £25,000 a week splashed out on the market for a £2.25million mansion despite having never started a premier league match’. Thus, the newspaper has chose to put a negative spin on an acceptable action. 

Also, a recent video from a Chelsea v Manchester City fixture shows a Chelsea fan shout at Sterling calling him a ‘fu**ing black cu**’. This evidently shows that racism is still around in football and governing bodies and anti-racism organisations need to act with more significance towards the subject. 

Another premier league star who has been subject to racism is Liverpool forward Mohammed Salah, who whilst taking a corner at West Ham United’s stadium was shown on video to being slated for his religion ‘dirty muslim’. 

In an attempt to prevent further racism  due to the racism directed towards Sterling, in an England international fixture in Montenegro, and the ‘unacceptable’ punishment set by UEFA being a fine of £17,235. Footballers of the England national team have promised to walk off the pitch in tonight’s fixture in Prague, Czech Republic if any racism is directed towards a member of the England team. However, Sterling believes that ‘If players walk off the pitch then the racists have won’. However, he is of the hope that the action will bring more significance to racism and football so a message to anti-racism organisations will be sent showing  that more must be done to prevent discrimination in football and set upon a better future of the game that everyone must be accepted by. 


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