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Football, Racism, 40 Acres and the Regulation Mule

Last evening, there was a captivating debate on ACLF about the extent of racism in football. Yogi’s joint has this eclectic mix of fascinating characters who occasionally take a spin outside football and indulge in profound discussions about politics, police states, the economy and many other colourful topics.

What struck me about the discussion yesterday was the level of understanding and ignorance in equal measure when it came to the reality of racism in football. It was a discussion triggered by the suggestion by former West Bromwich defender Brendan Batson that affirmative action was needed in

English football to open up opportunities in management for blacks and other ethnic minorities.

So, in the sporting world’s rendition of General William Sherman’s 1865 special field order No. 15, is it time for English football to start handing out the

“40 acres and the regulation mule” to managers of colour?

The redistribution of arable land to freed slaves was an effort to give them a chance to make a living in recognition of the clear disadvantage they already faced. Even as far back , that representation of affirmative action was deemed necessary to try and redress inequalities stemming from generations of slavery, despite its revocation after Abraham Lincoln was assassinated.

And here we are nearly 145 years later, and the “Rooney Rule” (nothing to do with that other one from Manchester) is seen as the only viable mechanism to break the establishment’s stronghold on the status quo when it comes to the lack of black managers in football.
Racism, like with most other “isms” is an emotive subject on any given day, and one commonly misunderstood characteristic is how racism manifests itself. It doesn’t have to be overt or explicit for it to exist. And in most cases, it is subconscious, subtle and hidden under the surface.

We’ve seen the numerous high profile initiatives and campaigns in football like “kick It Out” that in my opinion, are feeble and toothless PR exercises for the establishment to show that it is doing something. Only this week, the England football team were training with the “Kick it Out” bracelets to show the media and the world that they were sensitive to the racism experienced in Bulgaria during the fixture last week.

I know it’s feeble and spineless because it’s not nearly enough and not gutsy and deep enough to effect any changes. Footballing authorities are more interested in spending time witch-hunting banned managers for misdemeanours like sending signals to the bench from the stands via mobile phone, instead of tackling clear cases of racism.

It was only recently that Sergio Busquets of Barcelona blatantly abused an opponent with explicit racist slurs and FIFA and UEFA concluded that there wasn’t enough evidence. Gil Grisham from CSI would have built a case against Busquets from the TV footage even without leaving his sofa.
But it isn’t just the racism in the stands and terraces, and the racism on the field of play. When it comes to management, officiating, and the board room, the trend continues. It’s shocking that out of the 92 registered association football members, only Chris Hughton at Birmingham and Chris Powell at

Charlton are black.
At the highest level of football, we’ve seen the likes of Paul Ince, Ruud Gullit and Jean Tigana take charge of top football clubs, but is that nearly enough?
I don’t buy the argument that there aren’t enough black or minority professionals capable of doing the job at the highest levels. The fact that not many are even pursuing the opportunities in management is symptomatic of the fact that they are not likely to get the chance to manage at a high level, even if they were extremely competent and capable.

Nobody’s advocating for not giving the best man or woman the job. In an ideal world, the best candidate triumphs. But idealism and reality are two parallel universes. The reality is that the footballing establishment still live in the stone age and represent values and principles that are out of step with the modern world.

There’s a lot of noises about change, and a lot of noises about inclusion and diversity. They say “but, can’t you see how colourful the Premier league and the football leagues are? We have black, Asian and Hispanic players happily plying their trade alongside white folks”.
The blunt truth is that despite the player diversity numbers, racism is still alive. It’s taken a long time to get to where we are, but there are still tangible cases of racism towards players. My sense is that it got to a tipping point where it was impossible to ignore the talents of exceptional black players and that’s the reason barriers started breaking.

Sweden in the summer of 1958 was probably not prepared for a black 17 year old Edson Arantes do Nascimento (Pele), but history will suggest that the world will never forget him. Pele spectacularly announced himself on the world stage despite the “hostile” conditions towards black players.
Much more work has to be done in other areas of football, whether in management and coaching, or in the board room. As much as the establishment might want to rationalize or justify what is happening or what initiatives have been put in place, not nearly enough is being done.

If we need to hand over footballing’s equivalent of 40 acres and a mule, then it needs to happen. It’s criminal that opportunities for minority professionals in a game of such a high percentage of minority players is almost non-existent.
This isn’t about handing over jobs to disadvantaged folks for the sake of political correctness. It’s about recognizing that we’re not even starting from a level playing field and we have to do something drastic about it. It’s about getting them to the table. Those who are good enough can take care of themselves from there.

Don’t forget, we’re getting into this tweeting thing now. Join me on Twitter.

Friday, September 9th, 2011 Analysis, Football, News, Premier League No Comments

Why Speculating About Cesc Fabregas Is Not Good For Your Heart

I must have missed the last few days while stuck in the reservation and away from the hyperbole of the ’silly’ season. Not that I care much about the amount of faecal matter that gets stirred in the name of inventing breaking news, but I wonder if I made a mistake of even bothering to switch on the sports news this morning.

The thing is this, the way rumours about Cesc Fabregas leaving Arsenal for Barcelona are being peddled, you would actually get the impression that it’s a full gone conclusion and that the removal trucks are waiting outside the Spaniard’s pad in leafy Hertfordshire ready to take whatever is going to Catalonia.

Arsenal Captain, Cesc Fabregas

Arsenal Captain, Cesc Fabregas

The narrative is so predictable. Cesc answers a planted question in a charity event in Spain by saying if he ever left Arsenal, it would be for Barca. Cue the punks at Marca who provide their own version of the story for it is written that any editor who doesn’t peddle a Cesc story will be fired on the spot.

The usual suspects here from the Daily Wail to Sky Sports News pick up the story as fact and even suggest that Fabregas’s representatives flew into London to talk to Arsenal.

Which by the way baffles me a little because Fabregas’s agent, who happens to be David Dein’s son actually lives in London so begs the question as to why he would fly from City Airport to Heathrow just to liven up the story.
What I also find amusing is that media houses send a whole crew to the Emirates stadium at 6 o’clock in the morning to stand outside and report their hogg wash. For one, no one is at the stadium and you wonder what the deal is. Are they going to get more credibility by standing outside the stadium and using it as a prop or doesn’t it make more sense to just sit in the studio and peddle their story?

I’ve never really figured out why journalists insist on standing outside buildings even at 11.00 pm talking about a story that happened in that building over 8 hours prior to that.

In the building behind me today, we believe that a meeting took place and Cesc Fabregas’s agents who flew in from Spain have held talks with Arsenal. No one is here to comment, but we speculate that the talks are on-going.

This story is not likely to go away soon though, and for the very simple reason that there’s nothing to fill the air waves and news columns. I tell you, 24 hour news cycles are a bastard.

Arsenal fans around the world will be biting their nails on account of the media shit stirring going on in the name of credible news. At Stone Cold

Arsenal Towers though, our view is that we should just relax and enjoy the summer for this is not a reason to blow a gasket for.
We have spent time on the phone this morning with our inside source at Highbury House. And this is not some friend of an uncle’s neighbour’s former school mates half brother who works as a janitor at Arsenal. It is actually our contact’s job to know and deal with these things.

Our contact has made us understand that Arsenal’s position is simple and clear.
Arsenal does not indulge in media speculation and will not enter a slinging match between the Spanish and English media and tabloids. The club is too classy for that.

Cesc Fabregas is on a long term contract and an employee of Arsenal FC and that’s not going to change because newspapers have columns to fill.

Arsenal are not interested in selling their best and most influential player in his prime. Speaking of which, transfermarkt.co.uk, a leading authority on player valuations places Cesc Fabregas as the 5th most valuable player in the world after Lionel Messi, Christiano Ronaldo, Xavi Hernandez and Andreas Iniesta.

Barcelona will have to break the bank if ever there was a decision made to sell Cesc.

The impression I get is that no one really knows whether as reported, Cesc has asked for a transfer. For one, that will be professional suicide on his part, not only because it will antagonize the relationship he has with the manager and other Arsenal players; by asking for a transfer he will forfeit some serious benefits and short change himself.

The long and short of it is that it’s just another summer when Arsenal players become target practice. Arsenal are not interested in selling (though I would read that as “we won’t sell unless Barca are silly enough to unleash an eye-watering offer that is too good to turn down”).

Cesc will leave Arsenal at some point in his career, and the only known and verifiable fact is that his departure will be on Arsenal’s terms. The club is bigger than any one individual and it will not be rail-roaded into a transfer by the media or an impending Barcelona presidential election.
Until then, let’s enjoy the summer and go easy on self inducing heart attacks.

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