This piece on Spiked, a call to ‘kick these anti-racists out of football’, shows how far football’s reputation has fallen. That publication styles itself as ‘anti-groupthink’ – speaking out against the agenda of the elite. This is often a good thing: homogeneous messages seldom depict an homogenous truth. But sometimes they do. On the rare occasions that mainstream media unite in calling a spade a spade, they do so truthfully. So too, then, when they call a racist a racist.
Spiked editor Brendan O’Neill’s characteristic attempt to characterize that designation as a consequence of elitist (Debenhams shoppers’) alienation from what was ‘once known as the working classes’ serves his contrarian agenda; it also insults (in fact it does so through insulting) what is still known as the working class. Interpreted anti-groupthinkingly, O’Neill’s message here is that the mainstream media has, by implication, devolved the working classes into knuckle-dragging Neanderthals; he has stepped out of the parapet to actually call the working classes knuckle-dragging Neanderthals, incapable of exhibiting ‘passion’ without recourse to racism, homophobia and crass sexual innuendo.
This is palpable bull-shit. Football has loads of beautiful motifs of passion (see above) and adding racism to these is to their detriment. It taints the good in football fandom by excusing the bad. And it’s just wrong, again, bull-shit. Oldham’s Tom Adeyemi was not reduced to tears by the ‘passion’ of the Kop (a passion which had, in all likelihood, a mythical allure for Adeyemi as for any young footballer), but by the racist abuse to which he was subjected. That’s because Adeyemi was singled out for abuse: he was bullied because of his skin colour. Adeyemi was treated by Liverpool fans not as a representative of Oldham FC but as a representative of his race. The former would be passionate; the latter is racist.
O’Neill has conflated the two and, by so doing, given voice to a spurious pseudo-justification of an unjustifiable pattern of behaviour.
Tomorrow, as Liverpool host Manchester United and QPR Chelsea, the fear (and it is a fear – I, and many many others, really do not want this to happen) is that racism will again dominate the English football narrative. If that does happen and Patrice Evra and Anton Ferdinand are racially abused, we (in the most inclusive – anti-racist – sense) have to call it racism and we have to call it wrong.