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 41.

    @ 20.At 13:22 16th Jul 2012, jdowling18 wrote:

    'So now a black person is being racist to a black person? How can that work?'

    Have you ever heard of the concept of 'self-racism'? It exists. Do not believe otherwise.

  • rate this

    Comment number 42.

    @19, @15 is right. People of all skin colour are racists about others, it is just a fact of life. I grew up in East London as a kid and was called a white this, a white that etc, by asians and blacks alike. In the strictest sense of what is talked about here, that is racist.
    The biggest issue I see with all this is that black people especially have a real bee in their bonnet about racism and equality etc. They want to be treated the same as other skin colours and yet insist on always going on about racism and their skin colour. If they want to be treated the same, get on with life and accept what you are. Instead, they have/want black music awards, black football player associations, black police federations etc.etc. There would be uproar if there was a white music awards or a white PFA etc. and yet not an eyelid is bat when the blacks want to 'represent themsleves'. Quite simply, having specific skin colour based debates, groups and organisations merely widens the gap and does not bring people together. To most people in this coutry, it simply is not an issue. By continuing to raise it and keep it in the public mind, it remains a topic that provokes division rather than achieves resolution.

  • rate this

    Comment number 43.

    @1 - Black people can also be fat and bald. If you want an actual comparison it would someone calling you derogatory names for a white person. So your example is nonsense.

    Unless of course you don't mind calling you (and just remember it will be when you're not expecting it) names relating to your race? Something I very much doubt.

    As for the "choc-ice" comment. Ferdinand didn't say it. Although he does appear to have endorsed it. The comment is indeed racist and is up there with "inside-out blackman" and "bounty". Ferdinand should be made to explain himself. And the idiot who tweeted to Ferdinand should be reported to the Police.

  • rate this

    Comment number 44.

    #30 Weallfollowunited

    Ferdinand would have been better to have kept a close counsel over the whole affair. Comments of his over the last few months have dragged himself into it when he might otherwise have been able to hold his head high.

    Another loser in this whole sorry debacle.

  • rate this

    Comment number 45.

    @19. At 13:22 16th Jul 2012, harbourmaster wrote:

    so you want to debate racism in football??
    or racism in general - I am Highly qualified to debate on these matters and travel the world doing so. Therefore a person with similar knowledge would endorse my view and agree with it.
    Please go out and see the world - it will help you to not make suck boorish and ignorant statements about people you do now know.

  • rate this

    Comment number 46.

    30. At 13:34 16th Jul 2012, Weallfollowunited

    Please can you not base your comments regarding that idiot Ferdinand on what football club he represents. Any decent person would be ashamed of his stupid comment.

  • rate this

    Comment number 47.

    @ No. 27 - well played.

    I used to adore the game - playing, watching and coaching. Now I only enjoy coaching, because I get to affect change in young footballers. I get to "force" them to shake hands after the game, to not argue with the referee, to get up when not hurt, to not dive, to not swear, to NEVER entertain the temptation of bringing someone's colour into a discussion - is there anything more ignorant by the way?! I've run out of things to say so I'll throw a racial slur.

    We see the things I mention above week in, week out and it's turned me right off the game. Players storming off the pitch in reaction to being substituted, or losing. Rolling around the floor after no contact in a tackle. There is little to no class in the game anymore. Racism is only a small part of it, but we in this country turn it into a huge part of it because we want to be recognised as an equal opportunity country. But all these stories and documentaries serve to prove is how we take football too seriously and the problem doesn';t lie with the fans, it lies with the players. They are the ones that antagonise their fans with their disgusting behaviour. I could give so many examples but they depress me so I won't.

    Any player of mine that argues with the ref is hauled off for 10 minute punishment (rolling subs at low levels of the game) and that is my tamest punishment; I ban players for 3 matches for bringing the game I love into 'disrepute', punishment is the only way some people will learn. Especially the miseducated (99% of footballers are), FA, please do something about it. Punish Terry and Ferdinand for wasting everyone's time and be stricter on these overpaid idiots for spoiling what used to be a wholesome sport.

  • rate this

    Comment number 48.

    #39 smackeyes

    Please explain how a child is meant to make this distinction. Footballers ARE role models to children.
    Because anything a minor does should be known about by their adult supervisor.

    I hope my children grow to enjoy football and see the effort and standards that are necessary to become a top professional. But I will explain to them the difference between being a real person and being a professional at a given profession.

  • rate this

    Comment number 49.

    Football can't be racist because it's a game. Words can't be racist because they're a communication platform. Human societies though are racist - some in dangerous levels.

    The day John Terry was given the opportunity to tell us "I am innocent" is a sad day for English football. It's even sadder a day for British society, for reasons I don't want to explain but because this event has been one that can have immediate impact on everyday life.

  • Comment number 50.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 51.

    It wasn't the brightest comment ever made but then I wouldn't think Rio is paticularly bright. Since he's said the comment doesn't mean anything racist and Ashley Cole has said he doesn't care and him and Rio are good friends, what's the big deal?

    Just another reason to talk about racism to seem high and mighty compared to the likes of Ukraine and Poland?

  • Comment number 52.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 53.

    @13 - In the late 1990s Ian Wright said that the racist abuse he received at games also referred to him losing his hair. He was called a Black balding "XYZ" several times. So you're comparison is actually off the mark. Black people can be bald and fat. The comparison would be someone using Rooney's colour (white) and/or racial background (Irish) into the equation.

    A good way to understand this would be if you're child was playing a football match against a team of a different colour. And he was subjected to racial taunts throughout the game, would you just tell him its ok. Or would you go and confront those doing it? I have a feeling you'd be over like a shot to confront them.

    Recently a un-reformed racist former footballer Sinisa Mihajlovic complained that his family were being racially abused about their Serbian heritage at matches in Italy. And especially by the fans of the club he was managing at the time, just before he was left the job. A fans group pointed out that they were only using language that was in common use by Italians to describe people from the Balkans.

    The same group also pointed out that Mihajlovic has used the same excuse to justify racially abusing several black players. They said it seems that Mihajlovic thinks that racism is a way street. Acceptable for him to do, but not others.

    And I would say that a lot of people who claim its just banter or said in the heat of the moment would be the first to lash out. Especially if they are subjected to it every week or it was their children being abused.

  • rate this

    Comment number 54.

    51: If he didn't think the comment was related to Cole's race what was he laughing at? Did he find it amusing that Cole is like an ice cream?

  • rate this

    Comment number 55.

    51. Weallfollowunited.

    But it is a racist comment. If I called Rio Ferdinand a "choc ice", or agreed with that term, I would be in trouble for being a racist.
    I agree he is a particularly un-intelligent person, so why comment in the public domain, about something he is supposed to be against?
    He should be charged by the FA. The fact that AC agent has made his comment is neither one thing nor another.
    A racist comment was approved by Rio Ferdinand, and he should be charged the same as you or I would be.

  • rate this

    Comment number 56.

    #51 Weallfollowunited

    Previously, I actually thought Rio was more down to earth than all of this, but that's by the by.

    Anyway, could we say, by your rationale, that in the Terry case, the member of the public who instigated the complaint (an off duty copper watching at home on tv) should have been called into the witness stand to explain how what he saw (or what he thinks he saw) offended him?

  • rate this

    Comment number 57.


    A good theory, however when you were young if your dad had said Evil Knievel was good at jumping cars etc, but you should not emulate him, what would you have said?

    " yeah ok " and then gone out on your Grifter with some planks of wood to make a ramp????

  • rate this

    Comment number 58.

    How would I know, ask him. I'm just going off what he said, feel free to speculate about other reasons.

  • Comment number 59.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 60.

    How about the BBC led panorama propaganda about the Euros, leading ex-players, politicians and officials to warn people not to go to the neo nazi states of Ukraine and Poland in fear of being attacked in the street, fear for your life!!!! Didn't see to much of that myself.

    English FA and football in this country makes Sepp Blatter look intelligent, who is closer to the mark with shake hands at the end of a game and forget about it.


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