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 441.

    437: Doubt he's angling for a transfer yet! He does need to move on though, the only 'political pressure' I felt there was at all was from Ouseley with his remarks as an anti racism campaigner. It would have been better I feel to come from someone else in the organisation instead of someone linked to the Manchester United Foundation as he was obviously linked into the case and thus took a bit of the sting away.

  • rate this

    Comment number 442.

    Generally good, accurate reflection of current status of the game. Only one complaint - John Barnes' complaint that he was only given 8 months in his first managerial post and that it was probably because of him being black was misleading. I do not deny or condone the presence of racism in Scottish football and I am no apologist for Celtic, but John's record at Celtic was truly appalling and no one would have lasted much longer at either Celtic or Rangers under those circumstances. In case of doubt ask Tony Mobray who was dismissed by Celtic after a similar unsuccessful run despite being quite obviously Caucasian!

  • Comment number 443.

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

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    Comment number 444.

    For removing that post it just goes to show that the BBC or whoever is monitoring this is biased, prejudiced and flawed as a human being.

    What this type of removal does is as i sadi earlier breed a new form of hatred, and that is alot o people in the uk will become fed up and possible rise up against the being able to have freedom of speech speech.

    If i said anything wrong then take me court please

  • Comment number 445.

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

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    Comment number 446.

    Having seen your program its clear that there is still an element of racism still in the game . I am curious as to why the BBC chose to screen this topic on BBC3 but when Gabby Logan did a similar peace on sexism it was screened on BBC1 . Both program showed the darker side to the beautiful game and neither should be accepted . Your question about black managers and asian players is 1 which is an open question which only those in power of the FA could possibly answer ,perhaps a team should be formed with only asian players with a black manager . I dont think you will ever get rid of racism or sexism as long we both live . Punishment from the FA can deter players but it should not be there in the first place , what happened to the respect campaign . Thankyou for a wonderful insight and hope you get the chance to follow this program up .

  • rate this

    Comment number 447.

    No one wins the race in racism:
    WE MUST EXPECT OPPOSITION! We cannot move assertively nor become autonomous and Europeans still dominate us. Fighting to end RACIAL INJUSTICE without ENDING the POWER differential between Africans and Europeans is not possible - and illogical. YOU CANNOT HAVE JUSTICE IN A RACIST SYSTEM! The only way we're going to get JUSTICE is through enhancing our POWER. Consequently, we must develop our POWER. Until then, we should expect to be resisted by all institutions a part of European culture. To maintain their system, Europeans, regardless of political, economic and religious ideology, have decided that Africans cannot achieve self-determination - Dr. Amos Wilson

  • Comment number 448.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 449.

    Diane Abott got away with it.... WHY?.

  • rate this

    Comment number 450.

    Missed the original broadcast, but watched this show on iPlayer last night.

    As a supporter of Celtic FC, I was a bit disappoited to see that John Barnes was allowed to trot out his view that his sacking at Celtic was partly because of his race. Yes it's true that there should be more black managers in the sport if you look at the corresponding proportions on the playing front. The fact was that John simply wasn't any good as a manager. He claimed he wasn't given enough time, but that is a fact of life at Celtic as it was at Rangers until their recent demise. Success is demanded in domestic competition.

    There was a racist incident involving treatment of the player Mark Walters when he made his first appearance against Celtic, an incident well-documented at the time. This was deeply embarrassing for the majority of the support and supporters groups pounced on it to ensure there wouldn't be a repeat.

    At the time of John Barnes' sacking at Celtic the most popular player at the club by far was Henrik Larsson who is of mixed-race. John was maybe unlucky that Henrik was injured during his tenure, but he showed himself to be utterly incompetent in dealing with it. If Henrik chose at some point in the future to return as manager then he would be worshipped as he was as a player.

    If Clarke Carlisle had been in possession of more background research about happenings at Celtic FC perhaps he could have looked at the racism that current manager Neil Lennon has encountered. Attacked in the street, attacked whilst sitting in the dugout, the recipient of death threats and having bombs sent to him in the post - all because he is an Irish catholic, and all much more serious examples of racism than any John Barnes might feel he was subjected to during his time at the club.

    John did have a prolonged wait to get another managerial post, but he hasn't exactly been a resounding success since. Did he lose the Jamaica job because of racism? No. Maybe time to face the fact that he is one of a long line of naturally gifted players who couldn't manage. See Bobby Charlton's record as a manager compared to his less-gifted (playing wise) brother Jack for another example and one where race didn't enter into the equation.

    You faced up to a lot of racism as a player John. Not sure that was still the case when it came to our managerial career.

  • Comment number 451.

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

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    Comment number 452.

    i dont understand why there are so many people trying to explain this and that. namely point 431.

    it shouldnt matter WHAT is said to someone. it should matter that there are people out there who get pleasure from saying nasty things to people in order to make them feel like crap.

    someone can explain where the term 'coloured' or 'pinky' comes from, and whether they are racist or they arent, but what should matter is how someone feels when they called one of those words. nobody has the right to sit there and say you cant be offended by this word because it means this.

    personally, ive recieved abuse both for my skin colour, and for my tattoos but i get more offended about abuse for my tattoos because they represent me a damn sight more than my skin colour. theres loads of people with the same colour skin as me but my tattoos are personal to me.

    but regardless of that, nobody should abuse me for any reason should they? i think THAT should be the main issue really.

  • rate this

    Comment number 453.

    this is a stupid and simplistic question. "are there racist elements involved with football?" or "is racism promoted or tolerated by organizations within football?" would be better and more properly specific questions to ask.

    football is a game and by nature is neutral on such a question. it is only the groups and individuals who operate within the frame-work of any given football competition(s) that this can be asked about.

    when cyrille regis, lawrie cunningham and brendan batson became the first group of black men to collectively represent a single team in the late 1970s, it was clear from crowd reaction that there were certainly racists present at these occasions. it was really shameful to watch how the supporters at old trafford, for example, reacted when any of them would touch the ball. the discontented, ugly snarls, grumbling and booing that would emanate from the terraces was quite open and obvious. while one could say that there were elements of racism within the manchester united support, it would still be unfair to have characterized manchester united as a "racist" organization.

    while these days of overt and unashamed racism are long behind us, it would seem that there are still elements of racism present within both supporters and players of the game that reveal themselves and their feelings from time to time. therefore, to say that there is some racism within the environment of football would be a fair comment to make. to say that football itself is somehow endemically racist is just stupid.

  • rate this

    Comment number 454.

    who cares? Honestly, some black players and their white " anti racist " supporters, like the FA take this too far. They will create resentment seeking to get a white bloke in trouble


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