All got up by the evil meejah? Well not quite all, as the neanderthal low life in Warsaw city centre was intent on showing last night. But Stephen Goldsmith feels strongly that when racism and hooliganism are discussed, sensationalism too often triumphs over proper analysis …
Euro 2012 has been a pretty decent tournament so far, as I think we have all acknowledged.
But the reports of racism that constantly crop threaten to leave a blemish.
Let me say I was impressed by the Dutch squad’s reaction to monkey chants recently. Ruud Gullit sensibly condemned it and reminded the Polish and Ukrainian people they have a social duty and responsibilty to expose and extinguish the problem.
The message is this: reassure the world that football can prevail, by all means report these incidents and make people aware of the problem but please do it without sensationalism.
Sounds good to me to fight ignorance toe to toe. However, the contrasting way in which the BBC Panorama team did manage to sensationalise the issue troubles me.
I have deeplying concern about media sensationalism and nobody should be fooled into thinking this sort of treatment has the safety of the English fan at heart.
Nor am I comfortable with the way two nations appear to be stereotyped to the extent that people have the living daylights scared out of them and are deterred from travelling to observe the mighty fine football on display. Condemnation of two entire nations based on sections of a football crowd? Seems a bit – what’s the word? – racist.
I have personally witnessed acts of racism twice while watching England. The first was in Bratislava, Slovakia in a Euro 2004 qualifier October 2002, the second a friendly against Spain in November 2004. I attended a Bratislava stag do and it’s a great place, it was even better when I went to watch England play though.
The game in Spain came shortly after Luis Aragones, then Spanish coach, had been involved in a racial controversy of his own, concerning a comment about Thierry Henry, an incident the Spanish press passed off as nothing more than a misunderstanding followed by overeaction from the British press. Something, in other words, lost in cross-cultural translation.
The Guardian at the time reported that the Spanish newspaper As claimed the English were simply “politically correct to the extreme” as a way of “hiding their own defects”. It also reported the same paper asking whether David Beckham was, in fact, Claude Makelele painted white because of his impressive work rate. If this isn’t astonishing evidence of a general problem of attitudes towards supposed racial difference then I don’t know what is.
The BBC footage of Ukrainian fans viciously attacking a group of Asians was disturbing to say the least and Uefa should have reacted by demanding assurances that the people involved were properly punished and that the club was fined heavily enough to be damaged. Show the world you are taking this seriously and you justify the decision to allow you to hold tournaments.
I think that people would generally have been happy with that. Exposure of racism is a good thing and can help change things for the better. If Panorama’s desire had been to act as advisers, assisting Uefa and Fifa in stamping it out, then that would have been great and a positive example of journalism.
It is my firm belief, however, that this wasn’t the programme”s intention. Rather, it indulged in the sensationalism that pollutes the sports media. That’s what doesn’t sit right with me.
As stated, exposure of racism is no bad thing. But the way portions of the press have exploited the incident stinks of false agenda. It stinks of revenge, a reaction to the failure to award England the status of hosts to the 2018 World Cup. It stinks of dramatisation rather than responsible reporting.
Why has this revelation of such behaviour waited until the tournament? If Panorama were intent on helping Uefa and protecting our fans this should have been brought to our attention long ago. I find it sad that families of certain England players won’t travel to watch them play because of this scaremongering. I wouldn’t dream of criticising those who had made that decision; I am in no position to guarantee safety to anyone.
But instinct tells me that when fans make monkey noises and the like, it boils down to socially inept morons of a kind seen throughout society but, luckily, unheard at Euro 2012 since the Dutch training session incident.
Stan Collymore has been vocal about the scaremongering. He tweets on a daily basis on how nice the people are in Ukraine and how he hasn’t encountered any such incident that was perceived to be frequent by Panorama. This doesn’t mean there isn’t a problem, but nor does it suggest a country filled with savages.
And that’s the key point.
When I heard monkey chants in Bratislava, it came as a real surprise to me and the people I was with. We were in the Slovakia end – think of that what you will – and that as locals sipped their pints of lager, they had chatted and laughed among themselves and with us, asking us which teams we supported and if we liked their country.
Misguided for being there in the first place, we may have been. Feel threatened we did not.
And when police waded with bats into the visiting fans at the other side of the stadium, the locals shook their heads in disbelief and asked what exactly the English fans had done wrong. Nothing, from what any of us could see. The reaction of the host fans and the sight of police attacking England fans is something I will never forget. And then Ashley Cole gained posession near where we were standing and the same fans starting making monkey noises.
As they laughed like children seeing something no adult wouold find funny, we struggled to comprehend that these were the same people who had seemed to reasonable. Prior to the match, we had seen and bantered with plenty of English fans from all over the country, black and white mixing in bars and no suggestion that racism had been evident up to this point.
So what he heard appeared a spontaneous act of ignorance of the highest order. The night before the game my pals and I had a singsong with a large group of Slovakian men in a bar. As we sang our England and Sunderland songs, they followed with renditions of their own songs, all of which sounded a lot more beautifully composed and nostalgic. Initial paranoia from one friend who feared they were starting to sing about us was dismissed on the grounds that lengthy, finely tuned and romantically sounding songs are not created spontaneously but composed for films, Grease or The Sound of Music.
And this was typical of everybody we met. Stupid actions in the ground are not how I remember the Slovakian people. There were black fans in a different part of the bar and there was no pointing, confrontation or bad feeling. OK, on a passing visit to a night club later, we decided against actually entering after seeing locals punching each other. The bouncers told us it was a “rough neigbourhood” and we took their advice to leave.
Now I can imagine this lot acting as the Ukrainian fans featured on Panorama did. It may conceivably have been a feature of England in the 70s or 80s. But is that reflective of an entire generation? Was the incident in Bratislava reflective of an entire nation? Of course not.
Racism is a problem apparent throughout Europe and needs dealing with. We can’t help but be annoyed as countries and clubs are hit with paltry fines for despicable chanting while England were heavily fined for the booing of the Turkish national anthem at the Stadium of Light and even branded racist by some at Uefa.
At a glance it may seem just for the media to react to what seems very much a case of Them vs Us in our dealings with the footballing governing bodies. But let’s all stick together and fight condemnation of England by everybody else. I’m as gutted as anybody that we didn’t get the World Cup. I really am. But is there logic in trying to bring Uefa and Fifa down in any way you can? Will this not alienate us further rather than help?
So no, the rationale for the media treatment I have described, that of having the English fans’ best interests at heart, simply doesn’t wash.
I was in Portugal for Euro 2004 and was at the centre of the incident that you may recall being constantly shown as police clashing with England fans in the Algarve. I swear as a witness that the England fans did nothing wrong, nothing bar singing England songs in a non-aggressive manner.
While English police officers would be individually traced and held to account for such behaviour, the fans were the source of press scaremongering. There was no consideration of English fans; we were the targets. As Russia and Poland fans attacked each other this week, did English reporters stick microphones into the faces of Uefa officials and imply they should be kicking the said two teams out of the tournament? Probably not.
Ian Wright constantly tells us the only chance we have of conquering racism is to teach the ignorant. I just can’t help thinking that this part of the media could have responsibly reported the racism and condemned it without making people petrified to travel. By encouraging us all to proudly go and display our cultural diversity, to start to attempt to teach the ignorant.
Its a shame a lot of the good guys in the media get pigeon holed because of this.