The ugly game

by Chris Bertram on November 18, 2004

I may be the only Timberite who was both able to watch last night’s Spain—England football (soccer to you guys) “friendly” international and who also had the inclination to do so. It was a miserable spectacle on nearly all fronts (the only mitigating factor being the brilliance of some of the Spanish passing). There was petulant violence from the England players, especially the child Rooney who was subsituted before he could be red-carded. Rooney threw the black armband he was wearing for Emlyn Hughes to the ground as he left the pitch (a gesture which won’t be forgotten when he visits Anfield next). England’s footballing display was miserably inept, but though I admired the Spanish on the pitch I was willing Jermaine Defoe or Sean Wright-Phillips to score at the end (they didn’t) as every touch of the ball by one of England’s black players was met by loud monkey-chants from every corner of the ground. Anyone who deludedly believes that the population of Europe consists largely of liberal sophisticates would have received an education from last night’s game.

{ 44 comments }

1

Juan Torrella 11.18.04 at 12:35 pm

I’m Spanish myself and I also watched the fooball match yesterday, and I’m not able to find the necessary words to apologize for the shameful behaviour of the Spanish supporters. I can’t hardly believe how such a regretable sign of racism is possible nowadays in Spain.

2

Juan Torrella 11.18.04 at 12:35 pm

I’m Spanish myself and I also watched the fooball match yesterday, and I’m not able to find the necessary words to apologize for the shameful behaviour of the Spanish supporters. I can’t hardly believe how such a regretable sign of racism is possible nowadays in Spain.

3

Rob 11.18.04 at 12:43 pm

Does anyone know whether there is a history of this at football matches in Spain, or whether it was entirely provoked by Aragones’s comments and subsequent furore? I’m just asking because there are relatively high-profile black players in Spain – Eto’o, for example – and I was wondering whether they recieved the same treatment. I agree though that it is an error to assume that the population of (continental) Europe is entirely made up of liberal sophisticates. Italy, for example, has an overtly fascist party in government (the AN) and Le Pen’s continuing success in France is perturbing. On the other hand though, race is still quite obviously quite a divisive issue in the US as well. Maybe we should just be pessimistic about the progress of liberal values everywhere.

4

Matt McGrattan 11.18.04 at 12:59 pm

We ought to be relatively heartened by the success (with a few ugly exceptions) that the FA has had in eliminating that kind overt racism from English football. [At least at the higher levels of the game] It suggests that action can be taken and can be effective.

I remember in Scotland in the late 80s when Mark Walters came to play for Rangers and he was subjected to outrageous racist taunting not just from opposition supporters but from supporters of his own team.

Scotland has made quite a bit of progress since then but lags quite a bit behind England I think in the elimination of racism from the higher levels of football.

The impression I pick up from TV (and it may be erroneous) is that the ‘Northern’ European football leagues — England, the Netherlands, Sweden, etc. — have been rather more successful at eliminating racism from their game than Italy, Spain and Eastern Europe.

5

des von bladet 11.18.04 at 1:05 pm

There was a big fuss about Swedish fans when Djurgården supporters threw bananas on the pitch during a Yoorpean, but they claim they _always_ do that and it seems to be true. (“Djurgården” means “zoo”, after all.)

6

foo 11.18.04 at 1:13 pm

Just a note… this kind of stuff happens at American sporting events, too (maybe not on such a scale, but still…)

I’ve been at Ivy League soccer games where drunk frat brothers yelled racist things at an opposing player (until one of them got stung in the mouth by a bee, that was gratifying, a kind of cosmic justice…)

And to hear Mike Wilbon go off on racist Celtics crowds in Boston…

So, maybe no monkey-chants in unison, but still, people are a**holes pretty much everywhere in the world.

7

dave heasman 11.18.04 at 1:20 pm

Sorry Juan, “I can’t hardly believe how such a regretable sign of racism is possible nowadays in Spain” but I’m afaid it’s only too possible.
My daughter’s school Spanish class, 60 London kids 15 years old, did an exchange for a week with a school in Madrid. 1998 it was. The Madrid school was a good one, bourgeois families, no “problem” children. There were massive difficulties finding any Madrid family who’d take in the Chinese children, and the black ones had to stay at the hotel with the teachers. And all the English kids returned with horror stories of the casual racism of the Spanish parents, several of whom seemed to have semi-slaves, illegal immigrant domestic servants who saw their own children one afternoon per week.
A couple of years later, John Peel’s “Home Truths” radio program explored this at some length – a huge mailbag of scarcely-credible stories of racist school-exchanges emerged. Not just Madrid, though that’s the one I know, but big cities in France and Germany too.

8

zaoem 11.18.04 at 1:48 pm

Racist comments during games are unfortunately still quite common in some countries. I am not sure about the precise reasons why it is still more common in some countries than others. Turkey and Hungary have a particularly nasty reputation in this regard, but even there it varies by club/home ground.

9

JR 11.18.04 at 2:04 pm

Foo:

I know this is slightly OT, but I’ve had it with Wilbon’s rants against “racist” Boston. No doubt Boston still has a racist streak, but it has grown alot since the bad ol’ days of the 1970s. Many of its most popular athletes are black and Latino. Just ask Dave Roberts and Pedro Martinez, who were recently cheered by three million people during the World Series victory parade. We’ve come a long way, baby.

Wilbon, and others who sustain old images of Boston, do more harm than good.

10

Rob 11.18.04 at 2:19 pm

What’s most perturbing about the whole thing is that apparently the majority of Spanish press think it’s perfectly acceptable (or not worthy of comment):
http://football.guardian.co.uk/News_Story/0,1563,1354170,00.html

11

Antoni Jaume 11.18.04 at 2:22 pm

Dave, those “bourgeois” families are the main voters of the PP, the party of Aznar, are the moral heir of the fascist past of Spain.

In any case, racism, and fascism, is always present in human societies, I estimate the permanent rate at a 14% of population.

In other parts of Spain it is usual to have Saharaui children for a month or more in summer. On a more anecdotal case, I had a Saharaui pupil that was living with a “foster” family. And friends have adopted a Chinese girl.

DSW

12

Luis Villa 11.18.04 at 2:22 pm

I always recommend Amongst The Thugs to anyone interested in exploring this topic more thoroughly. A good, if scary, read.

13

Sandriana 11.18.04 at 2:33 pm

The Dutch are not immune either. I know NL has the reputation of liberality, but Dutch fans are some of the most violent and racist in Europe.

(On a tangent, but connected;Amsterdam’s own team, Ajax, are known as “The Jews” which makes for some very disconcerting chants.)

14

Robert 11.18.04 at 2:35 pm

I’ve attended baseball, basketball and football games across the U.S. (blue and red states!) for over 20 years. I never encountered the wholesale racism I witnessed last year at three football (soccer) matches in Rome (very shocking to an Italian-American). The incidents at the England-Spain match come as no surprise.

15

Rob 11.18.04 at 2:44 pm

I wonder whether the apparent public acceptability of racism is to some extent determined by the visibility of people from different racial groups in a society. For example, so far as I know – and please correct me if I’m wrong – Spain and Italy (which seem to be the main cases) do not have large ethnic minority populations. Particularly in the large cities where most large British football teams are based, there is a large and established ex-colonial population, which might make it harder to sustain racist beliefs. The unacceptability of racist chanting at football games might plausibly be related to this.

16

Bob 11.18.04 at 3:02 pm

Occasions such as this confirm me in my profound belief that in some matters at least our forebears had deeper insights into the human condition. The following is taken from the entry for: Archery, in Ben Weinreb and Christopher Hibbert (eds): The London Encyclopaedia (1993):

“Successive monarchs encouraged military training with the bow and arrow in villages and towns throughout the land. ‘Cause public proclamation to be made,’ declared one Act of 1369, ‘that everyone of the said City of London strong in body, at leisure times and on holydays, use in their recreation bows and arrows.’ Popular amusements such as handball and football were forbidden under pain of imprisonment. . . “

Those were the days.

17

Rob 11.18.04 at 3:09 pm

Since training racists to be able to fire around twenty, foot-long, steel tipped instruments of death in a minute would be far better than allowing them the opportunity to chant abuse :-)

18

P O'Neill 11.18.04 at 3:19 pm

Is there a more spineless gutless bastard out there than Sepp Blatter, who had plenty to say (for example) about Rio Ferdinand’s drug test travails, but appears to be sleeping through the race-baiting by people who should know better in European football? And why does Luis Aragones still have his job?

19

Rob 11.18.04 at 3:36 pm

To be fair to UEFA (and I know it’s hard to find the desire to do so), they have in the past fined clubs and forced them to play games behind closed doors after racist abuse: In the Euro 2004 qualifiers, England played either Slovakia (I think – an ex-Warsaw Pact country which began with S, certainly) and after black English players were subjected to racist abuse, some punishment was meted out to their FA. I can’t remember how much it was, and it probably wasn’t enough, but they do do something sometimes.

20

joel turnipseed 11.18.04 at 4:04 pm

This all reminds me of the rude awakening I got in 1988, while living in a rooming house with several Turkish engineering students (all huge soccer fans–they’d wear jerseys almost every day): when the word came of the Armenian Earthquake and the tens of thousands killed, they threw a spontaneous kegger, drinking and singing through the night.

21

joel turnipseed 11.18.04 at 4:07 pm

Also — does this mean Foer’s speculation’s are wrong: How Soccer Explains the World

22

Stick Candor 11.18.04 at 4:08 pm

It seems appropiate to discuss the player’s behaviour rather their game when talking about current european football. I know I’m going against the cocky euro-centric view of the world (at least footballing-speaking), but european football is so dull and mechanic. Argentina and Brazil are so far ahead… Argentina, specially, is playing the best football I’ve seen since Holland ’72-’74

23

Nick 11.18.04 at 4:10 pm

I was reading yesterday (in the Indie, I think) that one of the main causes of the racist chants in the Bernabeu is Madrid’s ‘Ultra Sur’ group of fans who, like the ‘Ultras’ in Italy (particularly at Milan and Lazio) have close links to the far right. There were similar links between some British ‘fans’ and the NF in the 70s and 80s (after all, there were England fans who threw bananas at John Barnes) but it thankfully seems to be on the wane, especially as the clubs and FA are now seeing it as a serious threat. As Motson said in the commentary yesterday, the England team were training in ‘Kick Racism out of Football’ t-shirts this week.

24

des von bladet 11.18.04 at 4:11 pm

Rob: Croatia? (At their worst vs. France.)

25

des von bladet 11.18.04 at 4:14 pm

Nope, Slovakia, beg your pardon.

There seems to be a lot of it about, isn’t it?

26

Koranteng 11.18.04 at 5:06 pm

Perhaps we should let the novelists have the last word on this…

Martin Amis – We have to face it: English football is just no good

The days when an England player’s first touch could often be mistaken for an attempted clearance or a wild shot on goal – those days are over. The deficit is not in individual skill, it is in collective skill; it is in the apparently cultural indifference to possession .

27

Thlayli 11.18.04 at 5:06 pm

If you know anyone who went to an England match expecting to find “liberal sophisticates” there, send them to me — I’ve got a bridge for them.

(On a tangent, but connected;Amsterdam’s own team, Ajax, are known as “The Jews” which makes for some very disconcerting chants.)

Several clubs around Europe are known for their historical association with their cities’ Jewish communities. The ones with the strongest such affiliations are Ajax, Tottenham Hotspur in London, and MTK in Budapest. Others include FK Austria in Vienna, AS Roma, and — believe it or not — Bayern Munich.

An unfortunate side-effect of this is the rivals of these clubs (Feyenoord, Chelsea, Ferencvaros, &c.) tend to use anti-Semitic taunts and songs during their meetings. Holocaust references are especially popular in such situations.

28

Cruella 11.18.04 at 5:22 pm

Racism may well have long and firmly-planted roots in European football, but the good news is that so does liberalism. I read recently of an incident at Portman Road – home of my beloved Ipswich Town – back in the 60s where the visiting fans began shouting racial taunts and the Ipswich fans responded by singing “Ipswich lives in racial harmony” for 45 minutes.

29

Mrs Tilton 11.18.04 at 5:51 pm

There’s nothing hard to believe about Bayern Munich’s Jewish connection; it’s just something many don’t know about. Bayern were never a ‘Jewish club’ in the way that Tennis Borussia Berlin once were, but they had lots of Jewish members[1] and supporters, and their president at the time the nazis came to power was a Jew, Kurt Landauer; he fled the country, but was president again after the war. Bayern weren’t as nasty to their Jewish members as other prominent German clubs of the day, and for that reason Munich nazis favoured TSV 1860.

For those interested in this sort of thing, Uli Hesse-Lichtenberger’s Tor! is a superb and highly readable history (in English) of German football. As you’d expect, there’s quite a bit about the nazi era. (And Hesse-Lichtenberger is upfront in recognising that Bayern behaved rather better than most German clubs; not an easy thing for a diehard Dortmund fan to be, perhaps, and fair play to him for it.)

[1] Like almost all German clubs, Bayern Munich is a sort of mutual society whose members are a bit like shareholders, except that they don’t hold any shares. There’s also a Bayern Munich corporation of which the society is controlling shareholder; that’s a new thing that a few big clubs have done.

30

dsquared 11.18.04 at 6:58 pm

Particularly in the large cities where most large British football teams are based, there is a large and established ex-colonial population, which might make it harder to sustain racist beliefs

Attractive theory, but the black and indian population of big British cities was there in the 1970s and 80s, during which period there was a huge racism problem. The reason why British fans are somewhat better behaved these days has been, quite simply an aggressive and draconianly enforced policy of kicking people out of grounds and cancelling their season tickets. Countries which haven’t made the effort, still have the racist fans.

31

Another Damned Medievalist 11.18.04 at 7:17 pm

Funny thing — I know there’s racism in football. My husband has been to games where ape noises were made at black players (in the late 70s and early 80s). It still shocks me. Maybe part of it is that, as a USAmerican, I’m just used to seeing lots of black players on a team. When I watch football, the closest I come to race is, “why are there no Asian players? I know there are Asian fans.” Otherwise, I tend to think of things like, “God I love Henry. He’s so damn cool. Toure’s solid. Oh, no, not Cygan. Why the hell can’t Wenger buy some English players?” But that’s me. Hatin’ Chelsea and MU ’cause they deserve it AND have lots of good home-grown talent. Although WHY Wenger didn’t go for Butt or Woodgate, I’ll never know.

Although, if there’s a special name for hatred of Cristiano Ronaldo, I’m probably guilty of it.

32

Ken Houghton 11.18.04 at 7:22 pm

dsquared – You mean still have the racist fans =in the stadium=.

I can assure you that the FIFA-qualifying US-Jamaica match last night was not marred by racist commentary and general fooforahs (though there was a period in the second half when it appeared to be getting out of control, until the referee handed out two Yellow Cards which both got the game going again and drew the wrath of the announcers).

Of course, it was not marred by being all that interesting, either, and was played in Columbus, OH, where most people were getting ready for that other football, coming this weekend, which will sell out 105K, as opposed to the “crowd” so large ESPN2 didn’t bother showing the seating.

33

Ken Houghton 11.18.04 at 7:23 pm

dsquared – You mean still have the racist fans =in the stadium=.

I can assure you that the FIFA-qualifying US-Jamaica match last night was not marred by racist commentary and general fooforahs (though there was a period in the second half when it appeared to be getting out of control, until the referee handed out two Yellow Cards which both got the game going again and drew the wrath of the announcers).

Of course, it was not marred by being all that interesting, either, and was played in Columbus, OH, where most people were getting ready for that other football, coming this weekend, which will sell out 105K, as opposed to the “crowd” so large ESPN2 didn’t bother showing the seating.

34

Ken Houghton 11.18.04 at 7:25 pm

oops. so much for that 501 error meaning nothing happened…sorry for the double-down

35

kall 11.18.04 at 8:01 pm

Mr. Turnipseed, have you read Foer’s book?

If I read it correctly, he points out (in some detail) the prevalence of racist hostility on the part of european football fans toward dark-skinned players.

His thesis being that the global game of soccer is comparable to global trade in the way that, when it brings different populations in contact, it often provokes the worst in them–at least, not always the best.

36

Slex 11.18.04 at 10:30 pm

I don’t think that the problem with racism in football is this big. Not that it doesn’t exist, but if you keep a close eye on football fans you will see that this type of behaviour is not targeted only at black players.I mean that insults and name-calling are the norm, rather than the exception in football, and if the players are black, fans will try to insult them on racist grounds, if not, then they will find something else to shout at them. However racist insults are selectively spotted because of their political incorectness, while the others are usually personal insults and you can’t make a political issue out of it.

In a game between CSKA and Levski two years ago a defender of Levski was punished after the game for racist insults against the South African striker of CSKA, and he tried to defend himslef by saying that he has Nigerian teammates and that they have never been treated in a racist way. I have seen fans shouting racist insults at black players of the opposition and only few minutes later applauding black players from their team in games on the club level. Not exactly a consistent position if they are racists.

Thus said, I don’t want to imply that there is no racism in football and among the fans. There are a lot of right wing groups who find their place in the so called “ultras”. Nor do I want to imply that violence in football can’t reach dangerous levels, even if it is not based on issues of race. All I want to say is, that not all of those who shout insults at black players are really racists, it may be all part of a psycho war – they are being nasty, yes, but not necessarily racist.

37

George 11.18.04 at 10:36 pm

This must have some bearing on the “would England be a red state or a blue state” question.

38

Chris Stiles 11.18.04 at 11:01 pm

In my personal opinion, Britain has come on a whole lot further than any of the other european nations in tackling racism, both at a visible and invisible level.

To a large degree this is a result of both the number of people from ethnic minorities and the number of ethnic minorities themselves. The fact that there is a great range ethnicities has meant that the country has had to confront what it means to British collectively rather than each group having to do it separately.

Yes, there is bad as well as good, and London and the South East is different from places like mid-Wales, but in general as an ethnic Britain I feel welcome as a citizen of this country and am always heartened by the number of the majority community who will protest unfairness in racial matters.

Sadly, the same is not quite the case in Europe – especially the countries of the South and France and Germany, this is one reason I personally have for being skeptical of the European project.

regards

39

Peter 11.19.04 at 12:02 am

Antoni Jaume: I know that I’m going to be sorry I asked this, but:
Do you have any real evidence to back the idea that the sort of casual domestic racism described is limited to Aznar supporters? And where does your figure of 14% come from?

40

Randy Paul 11.19.04 at 12:25 am

It’s not limited to Europe. Try going to an Argentine bar for a game between Argentina and Brazil and see how many times you hear the Brazilian players referred to as monkeys.

41

nic 11.19.04 at 8:53 am

The reason why British fans are somewhat better behaved these days has been, quite simply an aggressive and draconianly enforced policy of kicking people out of grounds and cancelling their season tickets. Countries which haven’t made the effort, still have the racist fans.

Yes, exactly. Even in Italy where the ultras far-right groups are still very active, racism in the stadium has diminished (more than the general violence and insults and throwing stuff at players). A few years ago the Verona Hellas ultras became infamous for the racist chants against black players, there was a lot of outrage in the press and from politicians, the Italian federation threatened to ban all supporters from the stadium, and the rest of the team fans started booing the chanters, so that came to an end.

The really shocking thing here is the behaviour of the coach and the comments by the Spanish federation. Blaming the English press!

42

Rob 11.19.04 at 10:51 am

Dsquared, I think you may have misunderstood what I was getting at. The relatively large (by European standards) and reasonably well integrated population of black and asian people in large British cities, over time, makes it difficult to sustain the acceptability of overtly racist behaviour. I think my account has the causality running the other way from yours: it’s because (in part) of the existence of the population that the measures to deal with it were taken. I’m sorry if this wasn’t clear the first time round.
Also, Slex’s point does bear consideration: clearly there is something wrong with insulting people on the basis of the colour of their skin, but doing so is not necessarily motivated by the overtly racist beliefs. That these epithets are acceptable as terms of abuse is reprehensible, but it does not necessarily mean that the people using them are (overtly) prejudiced (not that this was the case with the monkey chanting in the Spain-England game: they’re just racist).

43

Jeff 11.19.04 at 6:43 pm

Having grown up in the American South, the presumed epicenter of all things backward and racist, I am always amazed when I travel to Europe (and to New York and other large northeastern cities) by the casual bigotry and racism of friends and people I meet. Sweeping assumptions based on race and national origin (and the assumption that any white male from the South is by definition a white-hooded moron) seem to be shockingly widespread. As a guilty Southerner it always makes me wonder to what extent the South’s (and more broadly, the United States’) appalling racial history lets the rest of the country (or the Western world) off the hook for their own backward views. “At least we aren’t South Carolina…”

44

Antoni Jaume 11.20.04 at 7:55 pm

“I know that I’m going to be sorry I asked this,”

No needs to feel sorry.

” but:
Do you have any real evidence to back the idea that the sort of casual domestic racism described is limited to Aznar supporters?”

If you reread what I wrote, I think you will find that I do not make any claim that racism in Spain in limited to Aznaristas, far from it unfortunately, only that the hosts of these UK students were just the main class of voters of Aznar, and that was a reason in itself to expect racist behaviour.

” And where does your figure of 14% come from?”

it is a rule of thumb I’ve extracted from my readings in AI some 20 years ago, together with the observation that parties that are racists/nationalists (FN in France, Vlaams Blok in Belgium, HB in Euskadi, ERC in Catalonia, etc.) have a ceiling in most case between 12-15 % of voters. That does not mean that all their voters are “racists”, but their radicality in their political issues make them a good proxy IMO.

DSW

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