Sometimes being a football fan is hard

Guardian interview with Robbie Rogers

In the same week that the Guardian ran the linked interview with Robbie Rogers, who retired from professional football because of his sexuality, Sunderland have appointed Paolo Di Canio as their manager.

For those who don’t know, Di Canio is a former West Ham, Charlton and Lazio player, and has previously managed Swindon. He is also a Mussolini supporter and self-confessed fascist. David Milliband, the outgoing MP for South Shields has resigned from the Sunderland board because of Di Canio’s political views.

It is hard to enjoy a sport where being openly homosexual is career ending, while being openly fascist is perfectly acceptable. And how good are The FA, UEFA and FIFA really getting at fighting discrimination when fascists are able to be high profile managers but being gay means you won’t be able to play?
This sport is broken. Can we please start trying to fix it now?

Racism, Hypocrisy and John Terry

John Terry hands his boots to a fan after victory over Arsenal

The FA have released the written reason behind the John Terry verdict, the full text of which can be found on The FA’s website. It is clear that they did not believe his defence that he was simply repeating what had been said by Anton Ferdinand.

Terry now has two weeks to appeal against his four game suspension and £220,000 fine for misconduct. However, I hope that he does not appeal, accepts the punishment and moves on.

The easy comparison to make to this situation is to the one faced by Liverpool’s Luis Suarez last season, when the Uruguay international received an eight game ban for using racially offensive terms towards Patrice Evra. I felt massively uncomfortable with the actions of Liverpool as a club, and those Liverpool fans who stood so closely behind Suarez that they refused to believe that he could have done such a thing. I feel an even higher level of discomfort with this situation, since it is happening to the captain of my club.

Given that this has taken place at the club where I am a season ticket holder – and travelled to Munich for the Champions League Final last season – it is very easy to get caught up in the “he’s not a racist, he just said something racist” that I have heard Liverpool fans use as a defence for Suarez (along with the ever popular “but negro isn’t an offensive term in Uruguay”). From what I could hear coming from the seats around me in the away end at the Emirates, there was plenty of staunch Terry defenders: “One England captain, f**k the FA” being a particularly popular chant. There are a lot of Chelsea fans for whom Terry is still the “Captain, Leader, Legend” and support him accordingly by blaming Anton and Rio Ferdinand (who was certainly foolish with his “choc ice” comment, but hardly can be blamed for being related to someone), The FA, and anyone else except for the man in the number 26 shirt.

But I think that the FA were correct to bring disciplinary proceedings against Terry, even after he was cleared in court, since the two cover different legal areas. While the leniency of the suspension in comparison to Suarez does not send a particularly good message, that they felt fit to convene the panel is a good way to show that while you may not have committed a criminal offence, it was still an offense within the rules of the game.

I am uncomfortable cheering for Terry, as much as I admire him purely as a player I am very uncomfortable with him as a person given his past indiscretions and the appearance that he does not seem to learn from them. I have in the past said that if you use sexist language then it is right to call be called a sexist, and used a similar argument about Suarez. It would be immensely hypocritical of me and fellow Chelsea fans to not do the same with Terry. In both cases, ignorance is not a defence, and nor is using schoolyard ‘but he said it first’ logic.

I feel that while Chelsea dealt with the initial accusations better than Liverpool (I am so glad they didn’t bring out “Support John Terry” t-shirts in the way that Liverpool did), I believe that there is now a responsibility on the club to take actions that will show that no one is above reproach when it comes to their behaviour on or off the pitch, especially the club captain. Chelsea sacked Adrian Mutu for taking cocaine, as it was denigrating to both himself and the football club, and I think that the board and Mr Abramovich need to consider what is best for the club and team in the future, and whether or not that future should contain John Terry wearing either the captain’s armband or the club shirt.

Racism in Football: Bring in The Rooney Rule

It has not been a good twelve months for race relations in football. John Terry and Luis Suarez have seen to that. Some of the fans have not been much better, with several players, Ashley Young, Ashley Cole and John Obi Mikel among them, being targeted for racial abuse on Twitter. And let us not forget the guy who sent abuse to Fabrice Muamba’s twitter account after he had a heart attack on the pitch. These are just a few examples of explicit discrimination against prominent sports figures because of their race.

But what about people not getting chances because of the colour of their skin? Out of the 92 Football League clubs, only 3 of them employ managers of an ethnic minority. That is 3.2%. In comparison, according to the latest Cencus, minorities make up 12.5% of the UK population.

One way to help to combat this inequality is to bring in a UK equivalent of the NFL’s Rooney Rule. Named after the head of the NFL’s Diversity Committee, the Rule is essentially a condition that for every Head Coaching opportunity that comes up at any of the 32 NFL teams, there must be at least one minority candidate interviewed.

While this might strike some people as tokenism, it the extra opportunities has been reflected by an increase in the hiring of minority candidates (remember, they simply need to be interviewed, not given the job).

The Rooney Rule was implemented in 2003. At the time there were 2 minority head coaches in the NFL (Tony Dungy of the Colts and Herm Edwards of the Jets). That is 6% of Head Coaches. Within 3 years, that had gone up to 22%, with Dennis Green (Cardinals), Art Shell (Raiders), Marvin Lewis (Bengals), Lovie Smith (Bears) and Romeo Crennel (Browns) all in head coaching positions.

Currently, 18.75% of Head Coaches are minorities: Lewis and Smith from the above list, as well as Crennel now with the Chiefs, Leslie Frasier (Vikings), Ron Riviera (Panthers) and Mike Tomlin (Steelers) – who was hired having had Rivera also interview for the position. Having minority candidates applying for positions means that while they might not always be hired, there is both a recognition of talent (Smith’s Bears were defeated by Dungy’s Colts in Superbowl XLI, and Tomlin’s Steelers won Superbowl XL and XLIII), as well as an increase in the visibility of minority coaches for younger generations. There is no suggestion that any of these men were hired because of their skin colour, rather that the Rooney Rule has helped to increase opportunities.

Why not apply a similar rule in football? It will not mean that suddenly there will be a flood of high-level minority managers, but there ought to be an increase in numbers – and hopefully this will mean that instead of every minority manager being “a role model”, they can be recognised for their skills.It will also mean that candidates will be able to go through interviews and improve on how owners can see the viability of appointing minority managers – rather than it being either old white English men or foreign managers.

For those who will say that this is an example of positive discrimination or affirmative action, I remind you that the rule says you need to interview one minority candidate, not always give them the job. But if there are no minorities interviewed, then the chances of them getting employed in management positions are negligible. This action would be massively preferable to the current inaction.

Intolerance in Football: Fashanu, Terry, Suarez and UEFA

Intolerance in football is a problem. I don’t think you will be able to find many people who will disagree with that statement. Whether it is Luis Suarez and John Terry or the fact that there is only 1 professional football player who is openly gay, not in England, but in the entire game (for those of you interested, it is Anton Hysen of Utsiktens BK in Sweden). He is, for those who don’t know, only the second gay professional footballer ever, after Justin Fashanu. Out of the around 3,000 professional football players in England, there is not a single one who is able to be open about their sexuality. Not just for the sport, but for society, that is an embarrassment. But as John Amaechi pointed out recently, is this really a surprise when the board of the FA, who run the game in this country, have only just got their first female board member.

Some numbers:

3,000: approximate number of professional footballers in England

0: Openly gay professional footballers

£6,000: fine for former Leicester City player Michael Ball for tweeting homophobic comments

16: Number of professional clubs (out of 92) who are willing to openly back The Justin Campaign’s Football v Homophobia initiative.

These make for pretty depressing reading. The FA needs to do better – for a start by stepping up efforts to stamp out intolerance in any form (including anti-Semitism against Tottenham fans and players) by making the punishments for offences actually mean something. Suarez ought to have had a much stronger penalty – if fans are banned from grounds for racist chanting, why does a player only receive an 8 game ban? The fines for the likes of Michael Ball must be so steep that it is actually a disincentive to not display such bigotry. If clubs are made responsible for the actions of their players, then that would offer a real reason for them to police their own dressing rooms. For example, if Terry is found guilty, how about a points deduction. Similarly for Liverpool and Luis Suarez. If a player’s actions hurt not only him but his teammates, club and fans, do you think that might have an impact?

It is not just the FA who need to step up to the plate though – UEFA also need to make it known to clubs and fans that homophobia, racism and other abuse will not be tolerated. If fans at a match in Spain are making monkey chants, for example, then don’t fine the club €30,000 and say you are tackling the problem. That will make no difference to anyone. Games played behind closed doors, point deductions and exclusion from European competitions might. You did it for hooliganism, time to do likewise for bigotry. Make people think twice before they decide to hurl abuse at someone for the colour of their skin, their religion or their sexual preference.

Do I think that these things will happen? Given the record of UEFA and the FA, no.


On Luis Suarez: He has been found guilty. His punishment ought to have been much harsher. Kenny Dalglish, those supporting shirts and the actions of some of their fans should make everyone involved or supporting of Liverpool football club look at what their club has been condoning, and they should feel disappointed at the action of some of their people. I will boo Suarez for the rest of his career in England.

On John Terry: He has not been found guilty of anything yet. As things stand, I support Terry as a Chelsea player and club captain. If he is found guilty, then he deserves to be neither of these things. The club dispensed with the services of Adrian Mutu when he was found to be using drugs, (a decision I supported), and I believe that a similar stance must be taken with racism and intolerance. Leicester fired Ball after his homophobic comments, which was exactly the right decision. We must, as a club, make the same stand with Terry. There can be no excuse, and although I have sung songs in support of Terry for a decade, the club and its responsibility to the community must come first. Innocent until proven guilty. If guilty, then he must be punished.


I am a Chelsea fan, and East Stand season ticket holder. I am disappointed every time elements of our fans chant about Hillsborough, Munich or sing anti-Semitic songs at Tottenham fans, and I did not boo Anton or Rio Ferdinand for their stance on John Terry. I do not do any of these things, and a lot of the people who sit near me in the East Stand upper also don’t. It is important to know that not all football fans who go to games week in, week out sing such offensive things. But until everyone in the ground chooses not to allow songs about the deaths of fellow fans, or a players race or sexuality, we need to keep pushing for better education, more pro-active administration and harsher penalties for those who persistently display such intolerance, bigotry and hatred.