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 21.

    @ smackeyes

    Just the conclusion I came to after seeing all angles of the arguement.

    funny thing in all this is that Ferdinands are quite fair in skin colour and complexion.

  • Comment number 22.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    Racism, sexism, ageism, have been around since time began and will continue to be around long after most of us are gone.

    What can change is the way "stars" conduct themselves and realise they are "idols" to some impressionable people. Children look up to these fools and as a respectable member of society,I feel our offspring deserve better. Dont send these players off or ban them. Hit their wages because that is all they understand. If they cant go out boozing, they probably wont kill people in RTA's or rape women or assault random folk.

  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    8.At 13:09 16th Jul 2012, 0darroch wrote:
    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.

    I beg to differ - Michael Jackson ;)

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    Terrible, lazy article also. Can't the BBC find something better to spend OUR money on, than a dreadfully written article, about how bad racism was in the 80's? Don't we already know that it was terrible in the 70's and 80's?
    If the author really thinks that nothing has changed he really is not doing himself any credit with such nonsense comments.
    The problem is not a racist problem, it is that ALL players think that they can behave in any way they want to.

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    What would have happened if John Terry had called a black player "Choc-Ice"? Black people / players can be racist as well, but Rio isn't - he's just dumb!

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    Clarke I really hope you read this.

    Wake up son.

    Football is results driven. 99.9% of people involved don't care about ANYTHING other than their team winning. They don't care if their team is full of horrible human beings. They don't care if they are overpaid. They don't care if they cry and scream like little girls every time anyone comes near them. They don't care if they cheat. I'm Scottish and our national team is becoming England "D" and most of our fans don't care as long as results improve, even though it defeats the whole point of international football. 99.9% of people don't care about skin colour. All they want is for their team to win.

    Quotas are a form of discrimination. If you want quotas, then 9 of the England team should be white.... but that would never happen. It would be ridiculous and "racist." The only thing that people should be judged on is their ability to do the job. Until everyone gets to this point, the country will never become what it can be... BEYOND RACE.

    If you Sir, want football to set an example, then campaign for your members to stop cheating, playacting and generally disgracing themselves during every game.

    You also need to say that footballers ARE NOT role models and they never should be. Their is a huge difference between admiring the way somebody can do something (like kicking a ball) and a role model and you have to make that distinction.

    Once again, wake up.

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    This is truly a crazy world when you can spout vile abuse about someones sister, girlfriend mother etc. and it is endorsed without punishment, but mention something about their colour and lets rack up £100,000+ for a trial where the maximum fine was £2.5k.

    FA and all in power have turned a blind eye to the abuse between players and to referees which is clearly visible to kids and all at the game and watching on TV. Football is totally decimated, corrupt, greed ridden and without morality, but never mind about all that, lets persecute one of our best players for some pathetic playground comment, just for an agenda...

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    As with others I do not think football is more racist than general society, but it is a culture where cheating is rife and effectively colluded with by the sport's administration. What Terry and Ferdinand were certainly engaging in was unsporting behaviour to gain an advantage by riling an opponent - sledging and cheating. FIFA guidance on Rule 12 is clear that a player MUST be cautioned for "acts in a manner which shows a lack of respect for the game" or "verbally distracts an opponent during play or at a restart". In games I watch I will typically see the ref ignore such behaviour at least 20-30 times.

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    How exactly does what some random person wrote on Twitter suddenly mean Rio Ferdinand is racist? If anything, all he did was repeat what someone else said.

    Which I believe was the chief defence in a recent case involving a footballer.....

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    lalx3 @10

    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.

    Correct, which only goes to show that if you are black it does not necessarily mean you understand racism or it's current day meaning. Ferdinand has merely highlighted the situation we find ourselves in, which the vast majority, actively encouraged.

    We seem to have directed everything at one issue involving one section of society which is foolhardy. There are many kinds of racism today, a vast change from the day when racism had a defined meaning.

    But we do this with everything in our society, child poverty is the prime example. No longer does it mean being deprived of water, a roof, food etc. Todays child poverty has comparisons such as does a child have access to facilities or the same benefits as others.

    We are in danger of becoming a society at odds with each other on all issues.

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    Law 12 of the game states that "Using offensive, insulting or abusive language and or gesture" is one reason a referee can give a red card and dismiss the player from the field of play. In local football the referee gets the players together at the beginning of the game and reminds them of this law and then applies it.
    I have never understood why it is not equally applied at the highest levels of the game. However if the FA wanted to there is no reason why they can't enforce this law. After a few players get sent off the message would sink in and they would learn quickly.
    I don't think footballs are intrinsically more racist than any other parts of society but they have come accustomed to using language that they would not use off the field, on the field. Applying Law 12 would help improve the image of the game.

  • rate this

    Comment number 33.

    Yes, there is some racism in football, as there is in all walks of life. It isn't just white on black/asian however. There is a fair bit the other way too. I know. I'm a white male and have been called a 'white b*****d' on more than one occassion. Even had a bottle thrown at me some while back from a passing car full of asians followed by the obligatory 'white b*****d'. Anyway, that's life. No, the problem I feel is largely with our media and the BBC in particular. They have become obsessed with the issue of late, and it's getting worse. They all need to take a deep breath and step back a little. Those whom the gods wish to destroy they first drive mad, and the first step to madness is obsession. Don't beleive me? Then don't . Just watch Hitchcock's Vertigo. You will see what obsession does to you there.

  • rate this

    Comment number 34.

    Ban twitter!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    30. At 13:34 16th Jul 2012, Weallfollowunited wrote:
    How exactly does what some random person wrote on Twitter suddenly mean Rio Ferdinand is racist? If anything, all he did was repeat what someone else said.

    Which I believe was the chief defence in a recent case involving a footballer.....

    You are correct, this was someone's defence. You are also correct, that it a so-called racist remark was taken to court. So maybe, just maybe, that idiot Ferdinand should not be making flippant remarks about racism, as he would be the first to cry if it was directed at him.

  • Comment number 36.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    I do not believe that football is inherently racist like society in general it has a small minority who are racist or hold racist views. The football community has moved on light years since the debase days of the 70’s and 80’s. Obviously the recent court case about the alleged racial abuse by John Terry has brought the issue into focus, however I feel this saga this is not really about whether football is racist, but more to do with the so called football elite becoming untouchable due to the fact that they can afford top lawyers. If I or anyone around me said what JT apparently shouted to Ferdinand we would be expelled from the ground and would probably have our season ticket withdrawn/cancelled.

    Words of abusive nature do get aired in the heat of a moment and if JT had only apologised explaining that it was all down to the moment and he never meant what he said it would have not even reached the media let alone the courts. Unfortunately thought these overpaid professional footballers a think that they are untouchable and the law that applies to rest of does not apply to them and the recent court hearing has only enhanced that belief.
    These people are held up as role models for our kids. What sort of signal does letting him get away with this send to the kids?

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.


    The question posed is too simple and the answer must be 'yes, in part'. Football and indeed society is also sexist and homophobic as well and since these discriminations are almost not talked about at all, I would say that they are more deserving of discussion at this time rather than racism.

    The whole Terry affair has skewed people's idea of what the issue is and what could and should be done.

    But I don't think it's particularly football's problem rather than the problem of any other part of society.

  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    DB Cooper

    Their is a huge difference between admiring the way somebody can do something (like kicking a ball) and a role model and you have to make that distinction.

    Please explain how a child is meant to make this distinction. Footballers ARE role models to children.

  • rate this

    Comment number 40.

    Numbers 1, 13 and 14 all have a very good point but it goes much further than that.

    Taking a step away from football and looking at society as a whole the very term racism, (or sexism, ageism etc) is the problem. By giving it a name it has a place in society a label people can use for their own agenda. Instead of having a different term for different types of abuse or discrimination it should all have the same name whether you are abusing someone because skin colour, religion, sexuality, height, weight, colour/lack of hair, size of ears etc.

    Abuse is abuse what ever it is about and we should not see it on the football pitch in school or in society. But to give abuse a label depending on type exaggerates the differences between groups of people and creates divisions in society.


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