I am a football fan. An Arsenal fan. In the world cup I support England and Nigeria and, in both teams, it almost always ends in heartbreak because we cheer with our hearts knowing that our boys may not make it… in England’s case we have been waiting since 1966 and although I was not alive then, as an Arsenal fan, I know what it feels like.
In 1997, the organisation, Kick It Out was established to tack the issue of racism in football on and off the pitch. In 2021, we are still having the same conversations about race and football. Seems the only thing the FA and its cohorts know how to do is drag their feet when it comes to meaningful change in football is the protection of at least 25% of its players.
The issue of race in sports is not a new one, it is a disgraceful one, something that should be a source of shame for the authorities whose inaction only embolden the racist because they expect no meaningful change hence the players have to take matters into their own hands. Some people feel the issue of race does not belong in football or in any sport for that matter. They believe players should shut up and dribble the ball or in this instance, kick the ball.
Shut up and play they say.
Why do fans have to be saddled with the realities that face the same said players there for their entertainment.
It’s a beautiful game and all this kneeling is simply ruining it…
On and on their pointless arguments go.
Yet, the same people who boo are the same ones that will cheer when a goal is scored. Like the kids say; the math ain’t mathing.
A couple weeks bac, on James O’Brien’s LBC show a caller, part of the jeering crowd, tried to explain why he boos only, he could not articulate his reasons other than to admit he is a racist; this is a person who presumably is from the upper echelons of society one who can afford to travel to see the England team play most games, a fan he calls himself therefore has no excuse for his behaviour. He knows better. Knows right from wrong, needs no further education on it and if he does, google is always a free tool. He can afford to look up how kneeling in protest came about. This person will no question also think that people who want to silence his ilk is cancel culture because freedom speech is the cloak racists love to hide behind.
Some fans want to know when all this will end. They simply want to enjoy a game of football in peace, they are tired and bored… well isn’t that nice.
Imagine being on the receiving end of a society whose institutions are stacked against you. Even when you have earned the right to live freely in it. Stephen Lawrence was murdered by racist yobs in 1998… we are still having those conversations some twenty-three years later. Fans’ inconveniences mean nothing in the face of racism; the level of hatred and vitriol levied at Black footballers is awful. Racism is not simply a few words; its history is long and continues to fester in society today.
Yet, as I watched the England v Croatia match, hearing the jeers drowned out by applause as players take the knee, watch the debate go back and forth in the media as they all celebrate the lone goal pipping England to the win, I wonder if they realise two Jamaicans; Phillips on the set up and Sterling on target, gave them a reason for that jubilant moment in the game. Sterling was born in Jamaica and Phillips is of mixed raced heritage, his father is Jamaican and his mother Irish. They gave the country that moment. The irony should not be lost on the jeerers who simply want our boys to shut up and kick the ball. Especially on those who will tell you it’s only a game of football; it is not, it is bigger than that.