LONDON – The condemnation of the racist thugs who refused to allow a black man to enter the train in the Paris Metro was immediate and widespread.
Led by Chelsea, the club the mindless morons were following for the game against Paris St. Germain, there were calls for the six people involved to be hunted down, punished by law and banned from football for life.
And rightly so. Racism, indeed any form of discrimination, is abhorrent and unacceptable.
English football reacts the same way every time there is a racist incident, which only underlines the selective memory and blinkered vision of our national sport.
Chelsea’s quick response to the Twitter video which went viral was inconsistent with the way it defended captain John Terry when he was found guilty by the Football Association of racially abusing Anton Ferdinand of Queens Park Rangers.
While cleared of a similar charge in court, Terry was handed a four-game ban with Chelsea assuring us they had taken private “internal” action against Terry when transparency was needed. English clubs operate in a secretive world and prefer to censor any such news so nobody knows what, or even if anything, really happened.
England manager Roy Hodgson went as far as to say Terry would “hopefully” get off the charge handed out by his employers. Hodgson is not racist and his ill-advised comment was no doubt connected to his need for Terry to continue his England career, which did not happen.
While Terry and Luis Suarez, banned for eight games for racist comments made to Patrice Evra, are high-profile examples of the ugly side of football, the good news is that throughout last season at all 20 Premier League clubs, only nine fans were arrested for racist chanting. The bad news is that the structure of English football still has a backbone of racism.
Black players account for around 25 percent of the Premier League and Football League, yet there are only a handful of black managers. There is a hidden (though not very well) resistance to hiring non-white managers and it doesn’t stop there. Last November, a survey of the 92 clubs leading English football’s pyramid showed only 19 black and ethnic minority (BME) coaches out of 552 positions in the professional game.
It is no better in the board room. Fifteen of the 20 Premier League clubs have no BME directors. Of the five that do, four are owned by non-whites.
The F.A. and Premier League are run by predominately white people. When F.A. chairman Greg Dyke set up a commission to look at the future of English football there was not a single black representative. After this was pointed out, as if it should have been necessary, Rio Ferdinand was added to the panel.
Three of the racists whose behavior in Paris was so shocking have already been suspended by Chelsea, which said: “If there is sufficient evidence they will be banned for life.” It would be fascinating to ask them how they feel about the six black players — Ramires, Willian, Kurt Zouma, Didier Drogba, Loic Remy and Juan Cuadrado — who were in Chelsea’s squad for the game against PSG.
The timing of what happened in Paris could hardly have been worse — Chelsea’s match against Burnley will be its second Game For Equality, an initiative to underline the club’s commitment to tackle discrimination of all forms.
The knock-on effect for English football is likely to be unpleasant. Despite what happened in Paris, fans who follow Premier League clubs and England — thanks to strict banning orders imposed by the police for offenders — are generally well behaved. However, because England is seen as the motherland of hooliganism, and any argument could not be very convincing, supporters are treated with the heaviest of hands, not to mention batons, on their travels.
The Italian police are probably the most violent — memories of the Heysel Tragedy will never disappear — with the French authorities not far behind. In their eyes, if you are an English football fan you must be a hooligan and treated accordingly.
Arsenal’s forthcoming visit to Monaco, where tax rather than attacks is the main attraction of the principality, will probably pass without incident, but the next visit of an English club to Paris is unlikely to be a pleasant experience. England will be in France for Euro 2016 and the suspicion is the Chelsea Six will have a lot more than vile racist behavior to answer for.
* * *
WEST HAM WILL probably finish eighth in the Premier League. Given the fan base and spending power of the clubs who will no doubt fill the top seven positions, Southampton and honorary exception, on the face of it this would represent a satisfactory season.
The Hammers have played some stirring football, despite the odd low, notably the 4-0 F.A. Cup defeat by West Bromwich. There have been more good days than bad days for West Ham over the past seven months, yet all the signs are that manager Sam Allardyce will be leaving the club this summer.
Allardyce has always had an uneasy relationship with West Ham’s fans. A vocal section of fans will never change their view about Big Sam though the affable manager has supportive friends in the media.
A results-driven man, Allardyce tends to think the priority is where the club finishes and has often put substance before style. However, his CV is impressive. He has never left a club in a lower position than when he took over. Allardyce led Bolton into Europe and even though he was fired after seven months at Newcastle, it was a comfortable 11th after 21 games.
Blackburn was five points adrift in the relegation zone when Allardyce arrived in December 2008, but survived by seven points — the same season Newcastle went down. The following season Blackburn had a top 10 finish, though when Venky’s took over Big Sam was shown the door.
Allardyce is a solid, reliable, consistent manager and to outsiders it seems mad that West Ham has yet to open talks about a new contract after his current deal ends this summer. Co-owner David Sullivan’s comment on Allardyce’s future — “We won’t even look at it (a new contract) until either there are a few games left or when the season is over” — hardly inspired confidence that Big Sam will be at the helm for the final season at Upton Park before West Ham moves to the nearby Olympic Stadium at Stratford.
Christopher Davies was a longtime Premier League correspondent for the London Daily Telegraph.