From the Vice Chairman's Chair
*Tony Cox is the Vice Chairman of Tooting and Mitcham United FC. He produces an article for the match day programme called ‘From the Vice Chairman’s Chair’. We are grateful to Tony for allowing us to share his most recent submission, a piece of writing that we whole heartedly get behind. After all #SouthLondonisBlackandWhite*
Racism in football has recently hit the headlines after England players Danny Rose and Raheem Sterling were racially abused by Montenegro supporters at a recent Euro 2020 game. There has been a history of complacency by UEFA, and of tolerance of wholly unacceptable behaviour, insignificant sanctions and inaction, so it is great that this got wide coverage and re-opened the issue.
Rose’s most telling point was: “You see my manager [Pochettino] get banned for two games for just being confrontational against Mike Dean at Burnley - but a country can only get fined a little bit of money for being racist. It's a bit of a farce. So that's where we're at now in football. Until there's a harsh punishment, there's not much else we can expect.” Dead right.
But his words that made the most impact were more personal: "I can't wait to see the back of football". That struck home because it brought out the reality of the personal pain that racism causes. It hurts. It’s so unfair. We all know that Rose must love the game and must have worked harder than most of us ever do, to get where he is at the top. For him to feel this way is really shocking, at least to me. But I am white. I don’t think any of my black friends and family would be surprised at all. Because, make no mistake about it, lack of opportunity, gratuitous abuse, the prejudices in education and government agencies, are things they have all experienced on their personal journeys. And, they hurt. They are so unfair.
Very often, when the game comes under fire from journalists and the Kick It Out campaign for its lingering racism, the response from the authorities runs something like this: “Well, we are totally against racism in football, we have this policy and that policy but at the end of the day this problem is not of our making; it is a wider social problem which affects football as it affects everyday life, so there’s nothing much we can do about it.” Oh, but there is. In fact, football is in a specially good position to fight against racism in society at large, because it is so widely followed and because of the nature of the game itself.
Football is a team sport. Nothing matters except how skilful the players are, individually and as a set of 11 interlocking minds, at getting that ball into that goal. By the time players have a season or two behind them, perhaps at the age of 10, if they started out with the prejudices of their parents (and many do) they soon start to question them. A team would never be cohesive and successful with those attitudes. And, at the level of our senior club, if there were any people in our club who were feeling negative or even antagonistic about the number of BAME players and coaches in our squads, they cannot fail to be impressed and influenced by the camaraderie, individual and team-play skills, and the modern approach to the game itself, that are so evident when these teams play.
Football finds out those who are not good team players, and it finds out managers who cannot carry the dressing room with them. And the successful ones are those who get the best out of their team-mates. And the supporting staff and supporters on the terraces are part of an extended team, too. The respectful and cooperative values that are essential to success on the pitch are wholly incompatible with racism.
As for our own club, well, everyone knows as soon as they visit here that we are a very inclusive club, with no ambiguity about our position in South London, with its astonishing ethnic diversity. We cannot yet claim that there is no racism here (I have witnessed that several times) but we do know that we contribute far more to the fight against racism just by doing things the way we do, by living up to our ideals, by being open to all aspiring footballers, and, when they eventually leave us, sending them back out into the world to influence wider society by their attitude of mind and their example.
So, Danny, stay in football, please. Show us all what you can do and how much respect you deserve. Ignore the “idiots” (Raheem Sterling’s word) and help society to rid itself of this unsporting, unfair, destructive and ultimately pointless way of thinking.