A Different Week – A matter of race in the beautiful game’s ugly side

We were reminded of the dark days in English football’s past on Sunday as Blackburn’s El Hadji Diouf was accused of making a racial slur towards a ball boy at Goodison Park. Diouf responded to this by claiming that bananas were thrown at him by sections of the Everton crowd. Even in the year 2009, racism is still a big issue and despite the sterling efforts of campaigns like Kick Racism Out of Football, anybody who attends football matches on a regular basis knows that there is still an element of racism within our game. Certainly not as prevalent as it was 30 years ago but it is still present.

What is disconcerting in this case however is that no proof has been found of fans throwing bananas at Diouf. No cameras caught the incident nor was any fruit found by where the incident allegedly took place. With the amount of cameras that are situated at Premier League grounds on matchdays, this seems more than a little odd. Everton do have previous when it comes to racial taunting, in fact John Barnes will testify that certain sections of the Goodison crowd in the late 1980s were guilty of the exact thing Diouf is claiming, but Everton have worked hard to put that shameful past behind them in the last decade or so. It is also worth pointing out that although the game in this country still has it’s share of racial problems, it is light years ahead of the likes of Spain and Italy.

Speaking of Barnes, he along with Paul Ince have been vocal in the past that the reason they have not had the opportunities of other managers is because of the colour of their skin. As Barnes undoes the excellent work done by Ronnie Moore at Tranmere, his point seems less valid by each passing game. Yet there may be substance to the claim, out of 92 league managers only four are black (and Chris Hughton is only caretaker manager). Nobody is suggesting a policy of positive discrimination but four out of 92 is hardly a fair representation with the amount of black players who have plied their trade in England over the past 20 years. It is a tricky subject to navigate, in that there is no way in proving that managers are being discriminated against because of their colour. Ince was sacked from Blackburn after 15 games. Because he was not up to the job or because he didn’t meet all three criteria of a stereotypically successful manager – young, male and white?

Earlier on Sunday we finally had a game that lived up to the hype that had been given to it. The Manchester derby was certainly the best of recent times, if not ever. A lot of has been written about the fortunes of Manchester City already this season, but most have probably underestimated their toughness and resolve. Indeed their impressive performance was no doubt overlooked with much of the focus on the injury time added on to the end of the game and Craig Bellamy. There have always been two myths abut playing at Old Trafford – opposition teams do not get penalties and the referee will keep playing until United score. These statements are not exactly without merit – certain officials seem overawed by the mammoth crowd, in this case however it is not warranted. The injury time board is always a minimum amount, in Sunday’s case four minutes. If the referee feels that these four minutes have not been completed, it is within his discretion to add further time on. If anything the advantage should have been with City, Bellamy’s late goal would have crushed most other teams.

Speaking of Bellamy, his reaction with a fan at the end of the game was exactly the kind of incident that was discussed in last week’s column.

Whilst we do not want to be seeing anyone invade the pitch, Bellamy’s reaction was embarrassing. He clearly wanted nothing to do with the fan….until a gaggle of stewards took down the Old Trafford interloper. At which point he happily strolls over for to give the United fan a slap. Rio Ferdinand defending the honour of the fan was also an amusing sight. Bellamy’s actions are reminiscent of any scene in an 1980s American teen film where the valiant hero is held back by the leader’s cronies. Bellamy secured his place in the most hated Premier League XI a long time ago but this just furthers his (not so) glowing reputation.

The third round of the Carling Cup took place this week with many Premier League sides once again fielding under-strength teams. It is a testament of how much teams fear relegation that even the newly-promoted teams are not playing their strongest starting line-up. Surely the Carling Cup is an ideal chance for some of the so-called lesser teams to win some silverware. Clubs must have more ambition than simply surviving every year. Fulham are in the Europa League this season and proceeded to play a second string team. Aston Villa did the same thing last year when they were at a far more advanced stage and that backfired on them spectacularly. It is easy to complain about the top four teams but when the majority of the league has no interest in anything other than avoiding relegation, what choice do we have. The real sadness is that this general malaise towards cup competitions has spread to what used to be one of the crown jewels of the English season – the FA Cup.

Bellamy and Diouf are dead certainties for a place in the most hated Premier League XI. But who would be in your team?

A Different Week

Michael Owen’s move reminiscent of The Boss – July 10
The City Circus – July 17
Beckham – End of an American dream? – July 24
Trouble at the Toon – July 31
Chester’s plight reflective of modern ways – August 7
What will happen – August 14
Joleon Lescott and the ugly side of a modern professional player – August 21
Defoe is Jermain man – August 28
Deadline day disappoints – September 4
Mixed fortunes for home nations, mixed treatment for English clubs? – September 11
Did Adebayor go too far or did we overreact? – September 18
A matter of race in the beautiful game’s ugly side – September 25

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