Skip to main content

Shades of gray: The Secret Footballer on racism in soccer

January 30, 2013 -- Updated 1342 GMT (2142 HKT)
U.S. star Jozy Altidore was subjected to racial abuse during AZ Alkmaar's cup win at Den Bosch in the Netherlands. The match was halted and the crowd were asked to stop the abusive chanting before the action resumed. U.S. star Jozy Altidore was subjected to racial abuse during AZ Alkmaar's cup win at Den Bosch in the Netherlands. The match was halted and the crowd were asked to stop the abusive chanting before the action resumed.
HIDE CAPTION
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The Secret Footballer says there is a lack of education regarding racism in football
  • The EPL has seen racism incidents involving high-profile players in the last 18 months
  • TSF says fighting racism is not the job of one person or organization
  • A match in the Netherlands was temporarily halted after U.S. striker Jozy Altidore abused

Editor's note: "The Secret Footballer" is a current player who has chosen to write about his life in the English game. His book "I Am The Secret Footballer: Lifting The Lid On The Beautiful Game" is published by Guardian Books. Read more about him at www.thesecretfootballer.com

(CNN) -- I love Schrodinger's cat. There are many versions of this famous paradox but here's my favorite ...

You put a cat in a bunker with some unstable gunpowder that has a 50 percent chance of exploding in the next minute and a 50 percent chance of doing nothing. Until we look in the bunker, we don't know if the cat is dead or alive, but when we do look, sure enough, it is dead or alive.

If we repeat the experiment with enough cats and gunpowder, then half the time the cat will live and half the time it will die. But, before we look, the cat is dead and alive; it is only the act of looking that forces nature's decision. For the cat's part, it will either see the gunpowder explode or not.

So, the gunpowder explodes and the cat sees it explode or the gunpowder doesn't explode and the cat doesn't see it explode. The cat's reality becomes entangled with the outcome of the experiment and it is only our observation of the cat that forces nature to collapse into one reality.

Read: Football's addiction to gambling

Football racism: Not Black & White act 1
Football racism: Not Black & White act 2
Football racism: Not Black & White act 3

Thank God -- or physics -- that football isn't as complicated. At least, it never used to be. The globalization of our game means that domestic football in this country is now represented by players from all over the world who bring with them different faiths and cultural traits that entangle with our own.

Occasionally, some of these different cultures smash together with all manner of pundits, journalists and fans eager to give their interpretation of the results.

If I were to ask members of our youth team on Monday morning whether anybody from the Football Association or the Premier League has ever spoken to them about racism, I will bet everything I hold dear to me that every single one of them will say "no".

So one of two things happen: either players try too hard not to say something that could be construed as racist -- and do. Or nobody says anything. And that is particularly scary.

The problem is there is a lack of real education on the issue. Throwing t-shirts at players to wear before matches is not education.

Don't get me wrong. We all know what racism looks like in its crudest form, such as the disgraceful monkey gestures we've seen in the Premier League from some fans already this season or the throwing of bananas on to the pitch as happened to the legendary Brazilian left back, Roberto Carlos, while playing in Russia.

What is required is a little education to fill in the gray areas.

Read: Down the rabbit hole -- football's battle with depression

Take Alan Hansen, a former Liverpool player who is now a pundit on Britain's highlights show "Match Of The Day", who in 2011 described black players as "colored". There but for the grace of God -- or physics -- goes me.

Because when we were growing up in the early 1980s, my father was at pains to point out the correct term for a black person was "colored" and not as some of the other kids in the street used to say, "Darkie".

We were told to call the man that lived on the end of our row "Indian", even though I am convinced that nobody had a clue where he was from. You certainly never used the "P" word, even though at the time the word could be heard frequently on some of the nation's most popular television shows.

Football racism: Not Black & White act 4
Football racism: Not Black & White act 5
Football racism: Not Black & White act 6

But, of course, nobody is going to tap you on the shoulder 10 or 20 years later with an update and, as we know, so much of what a person learns in childhood will shape their adult life.

But that doesn't make it acceptable to plead generational or cultural ignorance.

It took an FA-led commission, the report of which ran to 115 pages, to determine whether or not Luis Suarez, the Liverpool striker, had racially abused Patrice Evra, the Manchester United defender, in 2011.

The commission had to consider that in Suarez's native Uruguay, the word "negro" is a widely used term that black people use to greet one another. But, after all, Suarez is mixed race and playing his football in England.

Read: The Secret Footballer reveals life inside the EPL

Suarez was eventually banned for eight games and fined $63,000 due to a lack of video evidence.

Keep in mind that John Terry, the former England captain, was banned for four games, despite all the video evidence that was presented during his hearing on whether he had racially abused Anton Ferdinand, the Queens Park Rangers defender.

Perhaps the most lenient punishment of all came last month when UEFA, football's European governing body, imposed what "Kick It Out" chairman, Lord Ouseley, described as a "paltry" $95,000 fine on the Serbian FA after England's black players were racially abused during an Under-21 match in Krusevac.

The Professional Footballers' Association, a body which presents the interests of players in England and Wales, can occasionally be heard in the middle distance calling for tougher punishments.

But its chief executive, Gordon Taylor, would do well to get in front of the players who he represents instead of the TV cameras he seems to prefer. In the absence of any leaders educating the next generation, we continue to see unsavory episodes.

We are arriving very quickly towards a state of extreme paranoia, where everybody is a racist until it's proven that they're not.

Football pioneer on racist abuse
Soccer player behavior in the spotlight

Read: How English football cashed in on the rise of betting

Take the absolute farce at Stamford Bridge last year when Chelsea complained referee Mark Clattenburg had called midfielder John Obi Mikel a "monkey".

When I phoned my friend at Chelsea, who was in the dressing room as things were kicking off, he told me that even the rest of the Chelsea players didn't believe Mikel and said as much to him.

But Mikel's claim was backed up by his Brazilian teammate, Ramires, who, as my friend put it: "Hardly speaks any English."

It is common knowledge that Clattenburg calls almost every player on the pitch by his nickname and, as my friend said: "We know in all likelihood that the ref has called him "Mikey" but what can we do?"

Premier League rules state that clubs have to make their complaint after the game, when tensions are obviously running high and people are emotional.

Again, as my friend said: "We didn't want to complain but we had to." Fair enough, but the fact the story made its way into the public domain almost before the players had left the stadium could have cost Clattenburg his career if the story hadn't been so unbelievable.

Fortunately, Clattenburg was later absolved.

You don't need me to tell you that a football changing room is a unique place to work in. We bend more rules than the Catholic church and each player will be pushed as close to their tolerance threshold as possible in an attempt to find the boundaries of acceptable mockery.

England midfielder Danny Rose claims he was subjected to monkey chants before, during and after the second-leg of their Under-21 Euro 2013 playoff match against Serbia on Tuesday, and had stones thrown at him by the crowd in Krusevac. Fans also ran on to the pitch and scuffles broke out after a 1-0 win secured England qualification for Euro 2013. England midfielder Danny Rose claims he was subjected to monkey chants before, during and after the second-leg of their Under-21 Euro 2013 playoff match against Serbia on Tuesday, and had stones thrown at him by the crowd in Krusevac. Fans also ran on to the pitch and scuffles broke out after a 1-0 win secured England qualification for Euro 2013.
Serbia scuffles
HIDE CAPTION
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
>
>>
Soccer racism in Eastern Europe Soccer racism in Eastern Europe
It is now nearly a year since Chelsea lost to QPR 1-0 in an English Premier League game at Loftus Road. During the game it was alleged QPR defender Anton Ferdinand swore at John Terry and made reference to the Chelsea captain's reported affair with the ex-partner of former team-mate Wayne Bridge. Terry is then said to have described Ferdinand as a "f***ing black c***". It is now nearly a year since Chelsea lost to QPR 1-0 in an English Premier League game at Loftus Road. During the game it was alleged QPR defender Anton Ferdinand swore at John Terry and made reference to the Chelsea captain's reported affair with the ex-partner of former team-mate Wayne Bridge. Terry is then said to have described Ferdinand as a "f***ing black c***".
Where it all began
HIDE CAPTION
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
>
>>
Crime and Punishment in sport Crime and Punishment in sport

There are examples of this behavior every single day. During the running sessions in which the fitness coach will tell you that "we're looking for winners", the person who crosses the line first will usually be abused based on a strong feature that they have.

So a person with a big nose might hear a fellow professional shout: "He won it by a nose!" A few weeks ago, somebody shouted to a black player: "He won it by a lip!" And everybody laughed, including the player who the comment was directed at.

But there are also players who have their own unique relationship with each other.

I know a black player and a white player who go out of their way to deliver insult after insult about each other's race and personal appearance.

They are strong characters and enjoy engaging each other on that level and treat their relationship, it seems to me, as a test of quick wit. It's worth pointing out that they do it only in front of the squad.

It's been like that at every club I've played for. I remember a ball getting stuck in a tree at one club and a black French player saying to an African player "you climb this tree, you a bigger monkey than me" before the pair of them fell about laughing.

Some comments you will hear at most football clubs. They seem to travel as players move around and become entangled in the clubs' genes.

Tackling racism should never be considered the job of one person or organization. The task is too great and, if I may say, too diverse.

Nobody seems to know what the right thing to say is anymore and it could be that point which prevents people stepping forward to speak out.

Maybe quantum mechanics is easier after all. In Schrodinger's book, "What Is Life?" he talks about each individual's consciousness as being only a manifestation of a unitary consciousness that pervades the universe.

His best-known work on wave mechanics known as "Schrodinger's Equation" goes some way to explaining the inter-connectivity of the universe at a quantum level.

Think of Suarez and Evra as ocean waves or tornadoes.

At first glance, they appear to be two separate bodies, but they're not. That is simply the way we chose to perceive them. Waves and tornadoes are simply water and wind stirred up in different directions. The truth is that nothing is separate and everything is related. The colors that we see exist only in our own consciousness.

** With special thanks to The Secret Footballer's good friend Mr T, working at CERN.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of The Secret Footballer.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
CNN Football Club
Be part of CNN's coverage of European Champions League matches and join the social debate.
Dutch football team head coach Louis van Gaal (L) and Dutch's assistant coach Patrick Kluivert (R) look on before a friendly football match between Belgium and Netherlands in Brussels on August 15, 2012.
Should the Manchester United board have insisted upon a more radical overhaul of the club's football operation when Alex Ferguson stepped down?
April 23, 2014 -- Updated 1326 GMT (2126 HKT)
Sunday Oliseh plays for NIgeria at the 1998 World Cup in France.
When Sunday Oliseh was a young boy, he never dreamed he would one day carry the hopes of 170 million people on football's biggest stage.
April 15, 2014 -- Updated 1523 GMT (2323 HKT)
The 1989 Hillsborough stadium tragedy, which claimed 96 lives, brought the red and the blue halves of Liverpool together.
CNN's Don Riddell says the 1989 Hillsborough tragedy has caused irreparable damage to the families of the 96 victims and the survivors.
April 11, 2014 -- Updated 1244 GMT (2044 HKT)
The Champions league trophy stands on show during the draw for the quarter-finals of the UEFA Champions league at the UEFA headquarters in Nyon on March 21, 2014. AFP PHOTO/FABRICE COFFRINI (Photo credit should read FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images)
Two European heavyweights will collide in the Champions League semifinals after Bayern Munich and Real Madrid were drawn together in Switzerland.
March 24, 2014 -- Updated 1248 GMT (2048 HKT)
West Bromwich Albion's French striker Nicolas Anelka looks on during the English Premier League football match between West Bromwich Albion and Newcastle United at The Hawthorns in West Bromwich, central England, on January 1, 2014.
England prides itself on being the home of football, but is the nation dysfunctional in dealing with racist abuse?
March 18, 2014 -- Updated 1339 GMT (2139 HKT)
In a city where football is a religion, Liverpool and England striker Daniel Sturridge is fast becoming a deity.
March 4, 2014 -- Updated 1555 GMT (2355 HKT)
"Everyone is scared about war -- they are very nervous," former Ukraine football star Oleg Luzhny says of the rising tensions with Russia.
February 26, 2014 -- Updated 1807 GMT (0207 HKT)
Bayern Munich's present success rests on one key decision, chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge tells CNN.
February 18, 2014 -- Updated 0922 GMT (1722 HKT)
Neymar
"More than a Club." It is an image Barcelona has carefully cultivated, but could the controversial deal to sign Neymar sour that view?
February 1, 2014 -- Updated 1825 GMT (0225 HKT)
Affectionately known as "the wise man of Hortaleza," Luis Aragones -- who died aged 75 -- left the legacy of helping Spain's ascension to the top.
ADVERTISEMENT