Is Football Racist? My Dad's story

Monday 16 July 2012, 11:00

Clarke Carlisle Clarke Carlisle Presenter

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It's not an exaggeration! Here I am, 32 years of age, I've been a professional footballer for half of my life yet I've never talked to my Dad about his days within the game.

The truth is I'm kind of glad that I hadn't.

My dad left school with the dream of being a footballer but only managed to play at semi-professional level at his peak, despite his widely acknowledged ability.

It was his experiences as a black player in the Preston and District leagues that alarmed me.

When BBC Three approached me to present Is Football Racist? I thought it would be a perfect opportunity to gain a real understanding about this very emotive issue, one that I regularly speak about in my capacity at the Professional Footballers' Association.

Footballer Clarke Carlisle

Clarke Carlisle

I expected to hear some differing experiences to my own but not really anything to challenge my personal beliefs around the issue.

In making the documentary I asked my Dad for the first time about his experience of football culture in the 70s and 80s.

The emotions it brought up on camera took us both by surprise.

"Kicked, punched, head-butted, stamped on", and that was ON the pitch. My Dad could barely bring himself to recall the details of events OFF the pitch.

He kept going back every week, to the terraces and to the pitch, because he loves football, but I'm not sure I would've been the same.

Maybe it's because of the different eras. Dad was used to the abuse and prejudice in daily life so it wasn't unusual for him. Why should it be any different at the football?

Despite our shared passion for football Dad decided never to take me to a game when I was a kid. He didn't want me to be in that atmosphere in the stands.

I've grown up in a different time and if I encountered now any of what he experienced then I'd be horrified.

I often wonder if I'd love the game as much if I had known Dad's story. The truth is that I probably would.

Once the conversation got going we went on to talk about how much he wanted to be a footballer, what it would've meant. Of how Viv Anderson playing for England was a real "wow" moment, not just for him but for the black man in England.

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Clarke talks to his dad about his experiences of racism on the pitch

So when we reflected on what it meant to us for me to pull on an England shirt we both broke down! The realisation of a dream for father and son.

Dad consciously sheltered me from what he knew was out there, he'd experienced it first-hand. I appreciate him doing that because it gave me the freedom to pursue goals without pre-conceived fears of 'potential' barriers.

I will do the same for my kids too. I don't want to burden them with what 'might' be a problem in life. I want to empower them. I want them to believe that they can achieve anything if they work hard enough, not program them to see barriers.

Making this film has helped me to see football's problem: it's made up of humans.

Football is no different to society. It's comprised of young men from local estates up and down the country.

Football is not the elixir to cure society's ills, if things need to change then we all have to change them.

Football can, however, lead the way by setting an example that is watched by hundreds of millions of people across all ages, faiths and cultures on a weekly basis.

Its influence is unparalleled.

Clarke Carlisle is the presenter of Is Football Racist?

Is Football Racist? is on Monday, 16 July at 9pm on BBC Three. For further programme times, please see the episode guide.

Comments made by writers on the BBC TV blog are their own opinions and not necessarily those of the BBC.

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  • rate this

    Comment number 81.

    Timbo @68

    This is not condoning what goes on but the day one can walk into a Britsh court system and see Black judges and a proportional mix of Lawyers and barristers will be the day that the media and the legal system can condemn soccer from a position of not being hypocrites
    I am legally qualified, until retirement I worked at various levels involving social law.

    We have moved on, the legal profession, up to a level of a Barrister is indeed a mixed bag.

    The reason that we have yet to see the same groupings as you would like to call it, at the highest levels, is time. To achieve the status of a Silk or Judge takes time but it will happen sooner than later. In the case of Silks it is purely merit based and time served has little do with the appointment.

  • rate this

    Comment number 82.

    jat, interesting point about Asians (descent) within the game however how much of this is down to racism and how much with culture and upbringing. The way the game is now the overall priority for many is money. Do you believe that owners would prioritise holding back players who may have gone on to make them millions?

  • rate this

    Comment number 83.

    I think on the whole the author of this article has already answered his 'question'. He seems to be genuinely shocked about the kind of things his father was subjected to when he was a player which suggests that he himself has not, or at least not to the same degree. Therfore the answer is - Yes football is racist but not as bad as it was in the 70's and 80's.
    This in itself reflects society as a whole in my opinion. The biggest issue to come out of the John Terry/Anton Ferdinand saga is the amount of abuse, racist or otherwise, that so-called professional footballers subject each other to each and every game. The same can be said about supporters of football clubs. They will shout all kinds of unsavoury abuse at a particular opponent but then they stop if that same player joins their club and are given some kind of god-like status until they leave again.

    A previous poster suggested having referees wear a microphone so we can all hear what is being said. I recall a documentary some years ago where this happened while George Graham was in charge of Arsenal and the whole program was just basically a swear fest with the likes of Tony Adams screaming at the ref like a little girl. That, if nothing else, will mean that referees in football will not be heard like they are in other sports.

    I really don't have any answers on how to improve the game but then I'm pretty sure the FA/UEFA/FIFA don't either.

  • rate this

    Comment number 84.

    I'm always pretty astonished that someone like Terry would use language like that in this day and age. I must be quite naive I think, but I genuinely thought the days of racism in football were long gone.

    I do think however, that it shows that we haven't completely gone to the dogs by the furore that has been caused by this case, when 20 or 30 years ago it wouldn't even have warranted a notice in the sports press.

    And on top of that, Rio (last bastion of moral decency) Ferdinand would do well to keep his imbecilic comments to himself.

  • rate this

    Comment number 85.

    Londoner in exile (70.)

    Great post! But one minor quibble.

    A person's skin colour IS indicative of a person's genetic (NOT touching that one!) and cultural heritiage. Therefore, to a very small extent, Rio is entitled to say "Well done Ashley! (with sarcasm) You've grown up as a black person in this country and you've chosen to do this?!" Similarly, there is a role for say, the Black Police Association or whatever, in pushing for equal oportunities and giving their community 'a voice'. That said, I think the MOBO awards is a very foolish concept t.b.h.

    But the flip is side is that they, and mainstream opinion, needs to acknowledge that this is NOT a colour-blind appraoch. Maybe eventually in 8544 AD when people are all coffee-coloured superbeings they'll look back at history and laugh about this 21st Century dilema

    But there will be no more blonde haired blue-eyed scandinavian types which as a man I'd have to say would be quite disappointing! But then that is life.....

  • rate this

    Comment number 86.

    66. Suarez used a harmless word in the Uruguayan version of Spanish to Frenchman on the playing fields of England. But the high and mighty FA decided because the word he used in his own language could be translated into an offensive one in English it would be the perfect opportunity to score a point over Sepp Blatter who a few days before had caused absolute outrage on the tabloid sports pages and BBC Sport website by suggesting that things like that on a football pitch should be settled with a handshake. That had nothing to with our 'racism' IMO but everything to do with not getting the 2018 World Cup, a point enhanced when the same FA castigated Suarez for not shaking hands with the person who had caused him to miss 8 days of football - what a surprise that human nature still operates on common sense and not PC. I don't know anyone who had been stitched up like that who would openly have greeted the perpetrator with a handshake in front of 50000+ people and a watching world media, it would have been sheer hypocrisy on his part and an admission of guilt to what was a trumped-up charge of 'racism' IMO

  • rate this

    Comment number 87.

    Truth is, people like Carlisle want Terry to be guilty to give themselves a platform. Although Terry was found not guilty in court, most of the comments by black pundits (e.g. Paul Elliot) just assume what he did was wrong anyway. Going on a witch hunt is more likely to make problems worse, like it did in the Suarez incident.

    Ferdinand laughing at that comment on twitter shows more deeply held racist views than anything Terry or Suarez are supposed to have said, although the silence about that from certain sections of the media is deafening. I'm really not sure what the FA are expected to do about all this childishness. And good on Ashley Cole for not kicking up a storm about the choc ice comment.

  • rate this

    Comment number 88.


    Bungly Pete,

    I genuinely don't see the difference, and to just post go and have a look is not a very helpful comment. Someone being insulted for the colour of their skin is NO different to being insulted for the colour of your hair etc etc. Both should be punished.

  • rate this

    Comment number 89.

    #84 derwaldmann - 22-01-2011

    Maybe you should read the judgement. The law is unable to be sure the context in which the words were used.

    Are you saying you DO know?

  • rate this

    Comment number 90.

    Rather than read people advertising their ignorance on Twitter or relying on facts from all the mock lawyers around, can I recommend reading "Black and Blue: How Racism, Drugs and Cancer Almost Destroyed Me" by Paul Canoville? A sad but uplifting story about football, racism, society ...... everything that's being talked abut here.

  • rate this

    Comment number 91.


    A fine comment, but it's built on your obvious capabilities as a parent. Unfortunately as society is showing, not all 'adults' are quite as capable parents.

    I see what you mean about celebrities not being roll models, but I still feel they impact on the weak minded in society, and could do more to help their cause. Seeing these 'professional' people and the way they behave makes me quite bilious to be honest.

  • rate this

    Comment number 92.

    jb, I've said before I accept what Suarez said as not racist (intent wise) but that since it was very hard to prove intent I would have happily seen him get a long ban as a deterrant for others using similar language and using the same defence. I'd happily see Ferdinand get a ban for using choc ice as it is widely viewed as being about race even if Ferdinand claims he doesn't know that.

  • rate this

    Comment number 93.

    The Terry case is open to everyone's interpretation now though. Whilst there wasn't enough evidence to prove he was being racist, there isn't enough to prove his defence either.

  • rate this

    Comment number 94.

    @88 derwaldmann

    I can understand why you believe that to be the case, but as far as I'm aware, ginger people were never forced into slavery, bald people were never banned from taking a bus, and fat people were never sent into gas chambers. We have race laws to avoid these atrocities of the past.

    Perhaps you could argue we should take preventative measures to make sure that it never becomes the case with other personal traits.

  • rate this

    Comment number 95.



    No I'm not saying that. I just think it was weird to see someone using those words. Even if he was doing what he says he was, i.e. mocking Ferdinand, it just doesn't add up. As I say, if it turned out Ferdinand wad insulting Terry, then he should be punished equally.

  • rate this

    Comment number 96.

    Bungly Pete

    I think you need to look at that comment closely and think about the Burma rail roads.

  • rate this

    Comment number 97.


    My least favourite moment in a sporting crowd was when a group of men sitting behind me helpfully informed me that I should have been "aborted before I was born" due to my hair colour. That was at an England match. I wouldn't expect that to be a criminal offence, that's absurd. But it's basically accepted as a perfectly fine comment, along with all manner of vile sexist and homophobic abuse at football matches.

    My point is that as long as we pretend that such forms of abuse are all fine and dandy and just "banter" we will never get anywhere, not with racism or anything else. Nobody seemed to care that Terry's alleged comment included a misogynist slur along with a racial one. If you pretend that it's okay to have less than zero respect for other human beings, and that it's fine to vocalise your vile thoughts about them provided you avoid a few key words that would then make it a criminal offence, then we have learned nothing.

  • rate this

    Comment number 98.

    Is football in England racist - Possibly.

    Is it Xenophobic across all levels of the game, the media, the FA? - Definitely.

    @85 - Couldn't agree more.

  • rate this

    Comment number 99.



    I understand the historical connotations of the phrase, but if we start singling out a particular word over others, we will never get anywhere.

    It was a difficult one for the courts I feel. It would have been interesting to see what would have happened if he hadn't used the c word after he called him black.

  • rate this

    Comment number 100.

    #94 Bungly Pete

    Good examples, but that is only half the story. What if a ginger person took great offence at what was said to them? Shouldn't there be some sort of protection on offer? Or is there?


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