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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Comments

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  • Comment number 1.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

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    Comment number 2.

    An interesting, if rather short piece.

    Unfortunately I feel that football is not necessarily a reflection of society as a whole. Footballers and their clever lawyers have become all to powerful and almost untouchable.

    Until FIFA and others take to task these overpaid thugs, incidents like the J Terry one will continue to happen. They are a daily feature on the news, T Bramble, J Terry, W Rooney, have all had isssues recently, and you could continue with a very long list.

    Football is a poisoned, vile, out of touch with society little world that needs to be dismantled then rebuilt before you can change it.

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    Comment number 3.

    I don't reject the entire hypothesis that a sport, rather than just a society in general, can be racist. There is a boorishness and group mentality amongst football fans that results in the victimisation of minorities and those who stand out. I also totally acknowledge the disgusting treatment that black players had to endure in the 70's and 80's and that, where any part of this continues into the present day, this needs to be addressed by the authorities and dealt with accordingly.

    I can't help thinking, though, that our very definition of 'racism' is stuck somewhere in the 1970's too. Obviously there is still the simplistic 'white-on-black' racism which is still seen today but there are many cultural tensions in modern-day Britain (e.g. religious) to which appearence (skin colour) can quite obvioulsy mark a deliniation. If you went back 1000 years or so you'd be able to identify northern Europeans by their fair hair, certain celtic tribes by red heair and freckles, etc. Obviously the worst kind of racism involves calling a person / player less than human (in all kinds of disgusting forms I won't allude to here).

    But isn't what Rio Ferdinand Tweeted (or, say, Diane Abbot before him) every bit as racist as what John Terry may or may not have expressed to Anton Ferdinand. But such is the hyprocrisy or, at best, current narrative, that nothing was done / will be done in these instances.

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    Comment number 4.

    I feel insulted that professional footballers are supposed to represent how the majority of the country behaves. Does anyone honestly think that the disgusting behavior of Terry, Ferdinand etc. is how normal people behave? And surley there is not a single person that thinks that Ferdinanad, or his odious brother came out of this with any more credit than the awful John Terry?
    The lot of them are pathetic, from the foul mouther Rooney, to Lampard being sick in front of Americans caught at Heathrow during 9/11.
    Racism is NOT rife in football, but pathetic, ignorant people are.

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    Comment number 5.

    I'm sure there are racists within the football world just as there'll be a selection of everyone represented in society as a whole. I've seen racist abuse directed at a player and also seen the whole section of crowd around me shout the guy down and have him ejected by stewards. We've seen Terry found not guilty by a court but I have little doubt that he'll find himself with a ban from the FA along with Anton Ferdinand.

    Not sure the FA can act against Rio's support of Tweets though I wish they would.

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    Comment number 6.

    I'm not one for people calling each other names, in particular insulting to ones colour but to ask the question 'is football racist' is over kill to the extreme.
    There are racist's and bigots of all race and creed, not confined to football, fact!
    Football as a whole came out tarnished over the Ferdinand, Terry issue, frankly they both deserved a serious talking to for their ludicrous and disrespectful behavior, as did the brother for laughing at the further gormless comments on twitter.
    I would say the BBC should have presented the programme as 'does football present an appalling example to young people and represent the fall in standards in society' which to me would be far more relevant.

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    Comment number 7.

    Football isn't racist. Just certain individuals are.

    It's a lot less racist than in the 80's. Kenny Dalglish proved that last season, he tried to turn the clock back to the 80's and succeeded in making Liverpool much more known for racism, reflecting footballs past.

    The worst thing about todays game is how much power the top players hold, they can do whatever they want as 2 points out. For some reason football doesn't see this as a problem.

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    Comment number 8.

    Comment #1 you should be ashamed of yourself. Whilst I agree that trying to profit financially out of it is a strange route, just calling racial abuse "banter" is short-sighted and, in my opinion, ignorant. You can cut/dye/style your hair or gain/lose weight if you want to, you cannot change the colour of your skin. Banter based on choice of appearance is fair game, abuse based on a trait someone cannot change (and shouldn't be made to fee like they should want to change) is not. Would you mock someone with Down Syndrome? Or with MS? Or someone confined to a wheelchair? The principle is exactly the same. It is not merely "sticks and stones".

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    Comment number 9.

    I think the question is wider than this. Is it acceptable for fans to chant offensive terms at players on a pitch. Do these terms only become unacceptable if colour is mentioned?

    David Beckham for example whilst playing for England was subjected to particularly vile abuse about his wife and child but are we really saying that is ok as long as they don't mention his colour?

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    Comment number 10.

    But isn't what Rio Ferdinand Tweeted (or, say, Diane Abbot before him) every bit as racist as what John Terry may or may not have expressed to Anton Ferdinand. But such is the hyprocrisy or, at best, current narrative, that nothing was done / will be done in these instances.

    Both are blatant cases of racism. You are correct, nothing will be done about either. What would happen to me, if I posted on Twitter that Ashley Cole is a "Choc ice"?
    We ALL know the answer to that.

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    Comment number 11.

    The sport isn't racist a handful of those that play and watch it are.

    The programme about the Ukranian fans highlighted the problems some countries have, if FIFA/UEFA wanted to stamp it out, they could. Everyone knows if the scenes on the fighting in the crowd during the Ukranian league matches happend over here, all our clubs would be banned from European competitions just like they were when Liverpool got the 5 year ban on English teams.

    Diving and cheating are just a big a problem, football needs retrospective bans from looking at video evidence, then you'd stomp everything out.

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    Comment number 12.

    Is football racist? In a word no. Certainly not any more than society is. I'm sorry but I feel that this programme (much like the Panorama about Poland/Ukraine) is overeacting. Certainly there is abuse in the game, directed at players, managers, etc but I don't know why racist abuse should be distinguished from Arsene Wenger being called a pedophile. I think the BBC is not helping by jumping on the bandwagon, instead of treating this as isolated case that by chance happened to coincide with the Suarez incident, you're digging up a can of worms that is stoking tensions and is leading to draconian calls for a crackdown on players swearing at each other.
    Football is far ahead of society in terms of offering equal opportunities for its players, people ought to remember that, as well as before the like's of Barnes, people like Pele and Eusebio had already proved to the world what exceptionally talented black players could do

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    Comment number 13.

    @#1

    I agree completely. I've been saying similar things to people for a long time and all I get from them is a bunch of tripe about how it's different when you bring race into it especially when you don't know the other person that well.

    I mean, what's the difference between the people who call Rooney a bald so-and-so to John Terry calling Anton Ferdinand a black so-and-so? To me both are on the same level as insults because you're criticising the person for something they were born with. So where do you draw the line?

    If the FA are going to punish Terry for what he said then they need to take the same stance on discrimination in general; race should be irrelevant. Similarly, if they don't end up punishing him then what does it say about how they treated Suarez? Let's not forget Luiz Suarez's words weren't anywhere near as bad as Terry's. Literally translated he simply called Evra 'black' a few times.

    If they don't end up punishing Terry at all then it will have proved my initial reaction that they were looking for a scapegoat to outline their supposed stance on racism.

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    Comment number 14.

    David Beckham for example whilst playing for England was subjected to particularly vile abuse about his wife and child but are we really saying that is ok as long as they don't mention his colour?

    Exactly........abuse is fine as long as you don't say the "N" word, or even the word black. Ridiculous.

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    Comment number 15.

    Everyone on earth is racist - it is natural.
    Black people are racist
    White people are racist
    Asians are racist.
    this is a fact of life.

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    Comment number 16.

    Abuse of all kinds is a problem. But the only thing that needs to be done to fix that is for the FA to announce that from the start of next season, they will be enforcing the rule for foul language to be punished with an immediate red card. It'll stop after one weekend. Even better if they give the refs microphones.

    As for the racism, we all know that most fans would kill to have players like drogba or essien in their team. "Racism" from fans and players is nothing more than trolling, that is done because they know it will get a reaction. And with these kinds of stories we are giving it to them.

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    Comment number 17.

    the_diego

    Bit of a generalisation is it not kid?

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    Comment number 18.

    The BBC are now going out of their way to fan the flames of racism again. After the fiasco of their EURO 2012 programme, they really should learn to do more homework.
    As the most racist comment in the public domain regarding the recent trial came from Rio Ferdinand, I am surprised that the BBC made no comment on this. Although, as we all know, Rio can make as racist a comment as he likes, because in the FA eyes, the BBC eyes, only white people are racist. Un-educated fools like Ferdinand use this to their own advantage, to insult fellow professionals in public,and tell everyone it is nothing to do with anyone else.
    Class man hey?

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    Comment number 19.

    15. the_diego

    If you are able to explain that comment you might find someone to agree with you.

    I very much doubt you'll manage to do that, in which case we'll need to assume you're the very type of boorish idiot who we feared would drag down the level of debate on this article.

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    Comment number 20.

    It just feels like the media are trying to find something from nothing. I mean yesterday the choc-ice comment that Ferdinand said was funny, initially it was portrayed as if he wrote the comment himself. So now a black person is being racist to a black person? How can that work?

    I'm not saying there is no racism in football, or in fact any other sport but this whole situation has gone way over the top. Fact is if the FA try and ban every player who makes a racist comment, then surely they will have to ban any player is swears or says something to another player. Which is simply not going to happen.

 

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