A Different League lends their support and column inches to a young man with a new campaign tackling an old issue in our beautiful game.
My name is Dan Tennant-Ralphs and I am a 22-year-old graduate from Cardiff University with a BA in Italian & Spanish. More importantly, I am a life-long self-confessed football addict with an unquestionable passion for my beloved and at times inconsistent team – especially around November – Arsenal. I did not have the possibility of playing football at any competitive level while at school due to the presence of field hockey (something I still do not understand to this day). The irony was many people at my school turned their noses up at football – a sport which was founded by some of the most prestigious schools in this country. However the point of this column is not to complain about what sports my school did and did not offer. The objective is to examine the issue of racism in the ‘beautiful game’ whilst offering you the chance to see the minor, personal efforts I have been making myself to attempt to tackle the issue right from its simple beginnings up until today.
Nearly 10 years ago (October 17, 2000), I can recall a Champions League clash between Arsenal and Lazio. I remember little of the game itself but what stays clearly in my mind is the ugly confrontations between Arsenal’s Patrick Vieira and Lazio’s Sinisa Mihajlovic, with both players accused of using vile, offensive and racist language over the course of the game to insult one-another. Mihajlovic admitted he racially abused the Senegalese-born player but insisted it was in response to Vieira’s previous taunts. There were also problems with a small minority of Lazio fans, who insulted various Arsenal players. Ultimately, UEFA took no action against either player, whilst Mihajlovic publicly apologised and the pair went on to work together at Inter.
However, incidents like this – as rare as they may seem in hundreds of games played across the continent each year – bring to attention the unpleasant issue of racism in the game. In my later years at school, I become aware of the following organizations that operate in the United Kingdom: Kick It Out (KIO), Football Unites, Racism Divides (FURD) and Show Racism the Red Card (SRTRC). I was greatly impressed by their varying efforts to eliminate this scourge on our game, under the umbrella guidance of the Football Against Racism in Europe (FARE) campaign which is backed and supported by UEFA. The above organisations also receive backing from clubs and associations across the country, including Eire, England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. KIO is backed by the English Football Association.
I purchased numerous badges, wristbands, pennants and t-shirts amongst other items from these groups before it came to my attention that I could do my own little bit at school to help raise awareness of their efforts. Even though football was not played at my school, I had a number of keen followers like myself. I took the step of buying around 100 SRTRC badges and sold them to my friends. I gave the money that I received for the badges to the collection plate which was passed around on Sunday evenings at chapel. During the height of the wristband craze, ignited by Lance Armstrong’s yellow wristbands emblazed with the words Livestrong to support the fight against cancer, Nike introduced their response to football’s problem. The campaign was called Stand Up, Speak Up and had a substantial media campaign with backing from star players such as Ronaldinho, Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney and Thierry Henry. The symbol of the campaign was two interlocked wristbands, one black, and one white. I managed to pre-order around 20 of these before they became available in shops and I was proud to introduce them into my school. It is fair to see that certain people become more friendly than usual in an effort to obtain one from me and I unashamedly sold them to my peers to make a small profit.
It was also during my school years that I devised my own slogan, image and concept to counter this problem that blights football. It would remain a simple image on my computer for around four years until a friend of my father suggested I have the design made into some t-shirts. It would be from there that my campaign would begin to make inroads with my intra-mural (IMG) multi-national team at Cardiff University. In the next column, I will introduce you to my One Game for All, Without Racism campaign.