LONDON — When Laurie Cunningham, the former West Bromwich Albion winger, joined Real Madrid in the 1980s, the Spanish pronounced his surname “Coon-ingham.” This was shortened to “Cunny” or “Coony” as they said it, just as Steve McManaman became Macca.

Christopher Davies

In England “coon” is a slang, derogatory word for a black man. While the Spanish, in their innocence, meant no insult toward Cunning ham, who died later in a car accident in Spain, it was hard for him to accept being called “Coony.”

As much as he tried to explain the situation it was difficult for the Spanish to understand why what they believed was no more than a nickname was, in fact, an insult.

Twenty years on it was a similar story when Spain coach Luis Aragones referred to Thierry Henry as “a sh***y black one.”

In trying to motivate Jose Antonio Reyes, Aragones said “show me you are better than the sh***y black one.”

In Aragones’ mind this was not racist. Spain has little history of black people and Aragones was, he believed, using no more than industrial slang.

The English media went to town when Aragones’ remarks were picked up by a television crew, demanding just about everything except being sent to the Tower of London for beheading.

In hindsight, an immediate apology and a sanction by the Spanish Football Federation would surely have prevented a lot of what was to follow.

The story “gained legs” in newspaper terms before England’s friendly in Madrid last week when Aragones decided the best form of defense was attack, and accused the English of being racists during the colonial days.

England players trained in “Kick Racism Out Of Football” T-shirts — which they have worn in the past — but the sad, almost inevitable reaction was that during the match, which Spain won 1-0, England’s black players were racially insulted with monkey-chants each time they had possession.

It was a throwback to the bad old days of yesteryear when mindless morons would throw bananas at players such as Liverpool’s John Barnes. Thankfully, English football has all but rid itself of such antics, but the day after the “friendly” in Madrid the racist abuse by Spanish fans saw even Prime Minister Tony Blair register his disgust.

WHAT MOST English observers overlooked was that a couple of years ago the Football Association was fined for racism from supporters by UEFA after probably a larger proportion of home fans than that which disgraced themselves in Madrid chanted, “I’d rather be a Paki Than A Turk” during the match against Turkey.

The Sun, which speaks for much of England, reported the Madrid mayhem with the headline “Neanderthals,” commenting that “The Spanish were THRASHED by English sailors when they sent the Armada to invade us in 1588. And in football they have NEVER won a World Cup — unlike England in 1966.”

Which certainly put racism and nationalism into perspective.

When England played Spain at Euro ’96 the tabloids had a field day with pictures of Spanish women with mustaches.

Someone playing the devils’ advocate could also ask how many black people are employed by the Football Association?

Or UEFA and FIFA come to that.

Why are there so few black managers in English football given that most teams have three or four black players?

There is also only one black football writer among all the English national newspapers.

It could also be argued that the English habit of booing the opposing national anthem is a form of racism. If you are going to be a preacher in the pulpit then ensure you are not worse behaved than those to whom you are preaching.

SPANISH SOCIETY is racist (like so many others) but in Spain they are only just coming to terms with the problem. For years the Spanish have been emigrants and living with people whose skin is a different color is a relatively new phenomenon. Spain needs to be educated about multiculturalism, but not by English tabloids or even by the English.

All of which cannot excuse what happened in the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium. Those guilty of the monkey-chants must have known that they were, in effect, reducing human beings to the animal species — a plea of ignorance only goes so far.

Spain may yet be fined or even ordered to play its next international behind closed doors by FIFA in the wake of English criticism, with the Spanish press belatedly realizing the severity of the situation.

The SFF sent an apology to the Football Association, but it was too little too late. It took the reaction of the English media and government to kick-start much of Spain into action.

SIR ALEX FERGUSON chalked up his 1,000th game as manager of Manchester United as the Reds beat Lyon 2-1 on Tuesday.

There has never, and one can say with confidence, will never be another manager like him.

To remain in charge of one of Europe’s top clubs for 18 years is almost impossible — five years should bring a gold watch.

A journalist who has covered United during the Fergie years told me recently he is still not sure whether the Scot is a nice man prone to fits of bad temper or a bad man liable to outbreaks of niceness.

Those who have been recipients of the famous hair-dryer treatment say they have never forgotten it.

One claimed never to have recovered from it.

Equally, charities and other good causes have benefited down the years from the kindness of a man brought up in Govan, which is on the hard side of Glasgow.

Before moving to United Ferguson broke the monopoly of Celtic and Aberdeen in Scotland, the Dons also beating Real Madrid in the European Cup Winners’ Cup final.

His 18 years at Old Trafford have fittingly, seen United win trophies.

The hardest job in football will be succeeding Sir Alex Ferguson as manager of Manchester United.

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