Liberal responses to racism in football

Something, somewhere, is very, very, wrong. According to a recent report by the Sir Norman Chester centre for football research at Leicester University, Celtic fans are among the most racist in Britain. Celtic came a close third behind Everton and Rangers “in the league table for making the largest number of racist comments heard” reported The Guardian (7.1.00).

Most curious. Particularly as, despite allegedly questioning 33,000 fans, not one team outside of the Premiership even rates a mention, And yet it is in places like Oldham, Scunthorpe and Carlisle where many believe terrace racism proportionally, remains at its most overt. Not only that, but it was Leicester and Coventry that witnessed the only mass examples of outright and unrestrained bigotry in recent years. Leicester are placed eighth in the league table of shame, but on this occasion in question it was the 3,000 away fans who were the source of it. Similarly at Coventry where a spokesman for the guilty party, ruefully admitted that most of the ‘4000 away crowd seemed to have been involved’. The considerable embar­rassment of Kevin Miles was understandable, as his club Newcastle are flagged up as one the two major state sponsored anti-racist success stories within the game.

The other notable pilot scheme at Leeds, who are allotted an almost relegation and there­fore respectable place in ‘the league of shame’, were the visitors who gave mass vent to their feelings about ‘Pakis’ in Leicester. Something similar had also happened only a couple of months earlier when Leeds were away to Blackburn. After the Leicester game in January 1999 the ‘Leeds Fans Against Racism’ website made at least some effort to explain it.

But when Leeds fans rampaged in Glasgow during a pre season friendly at the beginning of this season, targeting Irish/republican pubs in particular, an event, which drew banner headlines in Scotland, the silence south of the border, and within the anti-racist world generally was deafening. Neither ‘Kick it Out!’, ‘Give Racism the Red Card!’, nor Searchlight, who regularly eulogise the so-called Leeds blue-print had anything to say. Socialist Party inspira­tion Tommy Sheridan, who had publicly recommended the Newcastle model to Celtic fans (albeit before the Coventry match) was equally and unusually tight-lipped. Coincidentally the only paper, which saw fit to investigate the incident at Coventry v Newcastle, was not the liberal Guardian, but the Irish Times.

Up until the survey it was very much ‘the curious case of the dog that did not bark’. But with the arrest of Leeds players Bowyer and Woodgate following a serious attack on an Asian youth in Leeds city centre, the affair is given an added twist. Both Bowyer and Woodgate had, it appears, featured in a ‘Kick it Out!’ poster campaign.

Unsurprisingly national coordinator Piara Powar concedes that even without a conviction the credibility of his campaign has already been ‘damaged’. Yet the self restraint displayed by him and other state linked bodies is again marked. And apparently so confident was Leeds chairman Peter Risdale, of his self-muzzling pet, he confidently declared, in advance of anybody even being charged, that “the suggestion of this being a racially motivated attack is without foundation” (Sunday Telegraph 22. 1 .00). Contradictions and red faces all round when a few days later the South Yorkshire police, who as a rule, state sponsored bodies insist should have ‘institutionally racist’ enamelled on their helmets, announced a contrary conclusion.

For state sponsored anti-racism to determinedly turn a blind eye to the one club in Britain whose supporters are routinely targeted in murderous attacks simply for wearing the club’s colours is to say the least unprincipled. To then allow the same Celtic fans to be labelled racist, again without comment, is little short of contemptible.

Taken as whole, it merely confirms what many anti-fascists have come to suspect. Not only is the race relations industry blinkered, incompetent, wrong headed, increasingly self-fulfiling, self serving, and self-defeating, but in all probability corrupt.

Reproduced from RA Bulletin Volume 4, Issue 5, Feb/March '00