Rio Ferdinand is Not Some Recalcitrant Child Who Needs to Be “dealt With”

The intervention by Alex Ferguson on the issue of racism in football this past weekend has been atrocious. First he saw fit to criticise Reading’s Jason Roberts at his Friday press conference for announcing that he would refuse to wear the t-shirt of the FA’s anti-racism campaign, Kick It Out, prior to Reading’s game on Saturday. Then, after Man Utd’s game against Stoke, he laid into his own captain Rio Ferdinand for doing the same.  Both bespeak a football manager and a man woefully out of touch with the seriousness of an issue that over the past two years has returned to the game after a prolonged period of relative progress.

Rio Ferdinand is not some recalcitrant child who needs to be “dealt with” by anyone for daring to make a stance on an issue which for him, as a black footballer, clearly cuts deep. Nor does Fergie’s role as the manager of Manchester United extend to him having the right to control his or indeed any other player’s conscience. The spectacle of an elderly white man lambasting one of his black players for exercising that conscience was unedifying to say the least. Alex Ferguson has never experienced racism, hasn’t grown up with it, nor has he ever had to endure its dehumanising impact. And so when he claimed in a post-match interview that Rio Ferdinand had embarrassed him by not wearing the Kick It Out t-shirt, he was wrong. On the contrary, Ferguson embarrassed himself with his crude and insensitive response.

The John Terry saga and the manner of its handling by the FA and the game in general have covered English football in shame. The leniency of Terry’s eventual sanction by the FA – in the shape of a four game ban and a £220,000 fine (around a week’s pay) for calling Anton Ferdinand a “black cunt” during a heated exchange in a match between Chelsea and QPR last season – was bad enough. Worse has been the support the Chelsea captain has been given up to now by his club and by two England national team coaches – Fabio Capello, who resigned over Terry being stripped of the England captaincy prior to the Euros this summer, and latterly Roy Hodgson, who opted to select Terry for the same tournament while voicing his support for the Chelsea skipper; this despite the cloud hanging over him. Taken together this had the effect of portraying Terry as the victim in this affair rather than the opposite, as is the case.

Racism is of course not solely a football problem. It’s a societal problem of which football is its most public symptom. This is why it is so crucial that when it emerges in the game it is dealt with seriously and without any attempt at equivocation or sympathy towards those guilty of propagating or normalising it. People are still murdered in Britain for no other reason than the colour of their skin, and if kids see so-called role models such as a former captain of the England football team continuing to be supported by leading figures in the game when TV footage clearly shows him mouthing racial abuse at a fellow professional (Alex Ferguson it should be noted not among them) and then see a leading black player being taken to task by his manager for daring to stand up against the fact the authorities have not dealt with either the player or issue seriously enough, then all it does is reinforce the need to take that stand by Ferdinand and the other black premiership players who did likewise prior to the weekend’s games in refusing to wear the Kick It Out t-shirt during their pre-match warm-up.

Since the seventies and eighties, when racism at football grounds up and down the country was endemic and black players were routinely victim to the kind of abuse we were sadly reminded of last week during the England’s U-21 match against Serbia in Krusevac, there has been significant progress when it comes to racism in football. But that is no reason for complacency, as we saw with the Luis Suarez incident involving Man Utd’s Patrice Evra and the insensitivity shown by then Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish in response, and then John Terry’s abuse of Anton Ferdinand and how it’s been swept under the carpet by the FA.

On a structural level, despite the fact that black and non-white players are ubiquitous within the game, the same cannot be said when it comes to coaches, managers and officials. How many members of the current FA executive are black or from non-white backgrounds? To ask this question is to answer it. The same is true when it comes to the number of black or non-white managers and coaches. These are statistics that do not reflect the racial mix of British society and thereby constitute evidence of a culture that has to be addressed if the sport is to progress and racism in the game fully expunged.

Alex Ferguson’s remarks on Rio Ferdinand are reflective of this culture, of an attitude which holds that to elderly white men such as he and members of the sport’s governing body should devolve the right and responsibility of setting the parameters of ‘acceptable’ forms of tackling the issue of racism in football. He’s wrong. This right and responsibility belongs to those who suffer racism and not to those, like him, who do not.

If anyone needs to be “dealt with” it is those dinosaurs who would lambast the victims of racism for refusing to know their place. Indeed, rather than be “dealt with”, Rio Ferdinand and his fellow black professionals should be applauded for refusing to continue to participate in the charade of Kick It Out.

Why Hillsborough Still Matters

Twenty three years after the event, the fact that the families of the victims of the Hillsborough disaster are still fighting for justice is an indictment of the legal system in this country and reflects an utter disregard for the plight and dignity of working class people on the part of the authorities, a section of the media, and the police.

Let’s be clear, the 96 who died and 766 who were injured on that awful day were the victims of a monumental policing failure and a monstrous cover up in the aftermath. They were not killed by fellow supporters, nor were their bodies desecrated, violated or in any way criminally interfered with by their fellow Liverpudlians. On the contrary, many of them lost their lives and many more were injured trying to save others. And many who survived only did so because of the selfless actions of others on that day, whose courage stood in start contrast to the actions of the police, who refused to open the gates in the fence in the face of the disaster that was unfolding before their eyes.

The scenes of thousands of fans pleading with stewards and the police to open those gates as people are being crushed to death remain among the most harrowing ever broadcast. Penned in like animals their fate was considered less important than preventing a potential pitch invasion, reflective of the disdain in which the fans were held by the authorities and the police.

This criminal negligence was further emphasised by the fact that of the forty four ambulances that arrived at stadium in response to the disaster, only one was allowed access to the stadium, thus ensuring that many died who may have survived if they’d received medical attention at the scene.

The theory put forward in the aftermath by the police that many supporters were drunk and disorderly, that more fans had turned up outside the stadium than had tickets and were attempting to push their way in, was refuted by Lord Justice Taylor in his report into the tragedy, published in 1990. He laid the main responsibility at the door of South Yorkshire Police and set out recommendations for improving safety at football grounds. This proved the one positive to come out of Hillsborough disaster and is the reason why today people attending football matches are treated with the respect and dignity they deserve in state of the art facilities at which their safety is considered paramount.

It has taken 23 years and a tireless campaign to force the government and the South Yorkshire Police to apologise for the events of 15 April 1989 in Sheffield. However, this in now way constitutes the end of the matter. Criminal investigations must surely follow and those responsible for obstructing justice must be held accountable.

Compounding the suffering of the families of the victims and the people of Liverpool in the aftermath were the obscene allegations carried in The Sun newspaper a few days later, accusing Liverpool fans of urinating on the bodies of the dead and injured and rifling their pockets as they lay on the pitch. It marked a low point in British tabloid journalism and a low point even in the sordid history of the Murdoch Press. Yet in a shocking inversion of justice, Kelvin MacKenzie, the editor of the paper at the time and the man responsible for the smears that appeared on its front page, continues to enjoy a media career to this day. A boycott of The Sun has been in place in Liverpool ever since, illustrating the kind of solidarity that the Kelvin MacKenzies of this world could never understand.
By contrast the courage, dignity, and commitment to justice demonstrated by the families over the two decades since the tragedy took place, has ensured that the victims have never been forgotten.

They have never sought anything except justice. Hopefully the release of the Hillsborough Papers will go some way to achieving it. If not the struggle will continue – and rightly so.



More of the Not So Same

Mark Perryman of Philosophy Football reviews 2012’s early crop of new football writing.

In early March BBC Radio 4 broadcast Fever Pitched, the first of many, and well-deserved, retrospectives to mark the 20th anniversary of the publication of Nick Hornby’s Fever Pitch. This was a book that both sparked a new trend in football writing, the fan confessional, while reflecting a whole range of changes in the way the game was being consumed in the wake of the huge success of Italia ‘90.

Within the space of a few years almost every club had its own version of Fever Pitch, some better than others but all giving a voice to what it means to be a fan. Two decades on it is arguable that this form is virtually exhausted, there’s only so many times tales of a wet Wednesday night trip to Hartlepool and the levels of devotion this represents can entertain, let alone inspire. There are exceptions, Arsenal can now boast a second book of superb literary merit. Jason Cowley’s The Last Game about the club’s 1988-89 title winning season, won of course in dramatic fashion at Anfield. While Anthony Clavane’s Promised Land explores what Leeds United means to its fans in a brilliant piece of writing that combines the social and cultural with what goes on on the pitch and in the boardroom.

Others have pioneered different ways of writing about football. Simon Kuper’s Football against the Enemy helped to invent a new kind of travelogue combining football with its meaning in countries from Holland to the USA, and most points north, south, east and west. Meanwhile Jonathan Wilson has invented a writing style which manages to turn the dry subject of tactical formations into a strangely compelling read, first in his history of tactics The Inverted Pyramid and now in the splendid quarterly journal he edits, The Blizzard.

But with such a huge volume of books published since the mid 1990s on almost every imaginable footballing subject its no surprise to find the quality in headlong decline, sales falling and most publishers retreating to the formulaic, the ghosted superstar footballer’s biography that tells you nothing very much at all about its subject. Spectacularly breaking this mould is Michael Calvin’s Family, LIfe, Death and Football . A season in the life of deeply unfashionable Millwall FC as they fight, sometimes literally, for promotion from League One, or if you prefer in ‘old money’ Division Three. It is rare indeed for a writer to be given unrestricted access to the dressing room, training pitch, team coach and player’s homes. Calvin has all this, and more, he makes fantastic use of his material, turning the season’s ups and downs into a thrilingly realistic narrative of football at this level. The book reveals both what life is like for a professional footballers and what playing the game means to them. As for Millwall, a touch romantic perhaps in the book’s depiction as representing ‘real football’, yet the raw emotional pride of the club’s localism deserves a fair hearing alongside the more usual, and often unfair coverage, Millwall have had to endure too. The measure of Calvin’s achievement is that after reading this any fan would surely want something similar to be written about their club, and the fact that such access is so rarely provided seriously questioned.

Paul Hodson and Stephen North’s We Want Falmer is the story of what can happen when fans’ complaints aren’t just heard but become the focus for a mass movement embraced first by the supporters, and eventually by the club too. Fifteen years is an extraordinary length of time for any campaign to be sustained but this is how long it took for Brighton to secure its own ground after the Goldstone was flogged off to developers. The book, in the words of those involved in the campaign, records every twist and turn along the way, with the imagination, commitment and large numbers involved carefully accounted for. There is little to fault as one obstacle after another is successfully overcome but by the end there is an element of doubt of what exactly has been achieved. Brighton isn’t a ‘phoenix club’ of the sort AFC Wimbledon, FC United and others have become. The ownership structure of the club remains more or less intact, and it is surely ironic that the new ‘community stadium’ has awarded its naming rights to American Express. The years of campaigning shaped Brighton’s support as a highly effective force for change, one the club learned it could not do without, but now the new stadium is complete and the crowds have returned to sell out the stands what role for this near-unique legacy? Nobody, well perhaps Palace fans might , would wish the kinds of calamities Brighton have had to battle to get here to return but for now it remains unclear how the battle to get the ‘Amex’ will change the club for good.

The Celtic and Rangers rivalry is perhaps one of the best known in world football. The ‘Old Firm’ may right now be in a state of financial disrepair and regular failure in European competitions yet the ferocity of the rivalry remains much the same. Author Richard Wilson in his Inside the Divide : One City, Two Teams, The Old Firm adopts an unusual format to to detail all that frames the bitterness. He chooses to chronicle in the most minute detail just one derby match. Perhaps influenced by the peerless writing style of David Peace in The Damned United Wilson follows a similarly dual narrative, the game itself, and the background to it. Mostly this works very well, with players, fans, the police, ambulance drivers and hospital staff, press, the church, and plenty more each contributing their own particular account of this matchday while Wilson provides an expertly written context. Stylistically he is a little hampered by the limitations, the game after all only lasts ninety minutes and he has 243 pages to fill, but for a book on the Old Firm this is certainly one of the very best.

At its best football remains a decent subject for any author to address. The dramas on and off the pitch may have altered over the last two decades yet they have hardly disappeared. One feature though that has certainly not changed is the game’s maleness. An academic collection of essays Women’s Football in the UK, edited by Jayne Caudwell seeks to some extent to redress the balance. The writing is rigourously researched, with a theoretical bent that some might find too much to take. Yet this is the kind of work that is needed more than ever before, to account for the game’s gender exclusions as well as its inclusions. The fact that this kind of writing is still largely limited to university research-papers and peer-reviewed journals is hardly the fault of the writers but until the points they make about the state of women’s participation in the game enter the mainstream of football writing the possibilities of change will remain largely restricted.

Four very different books. The standout one amongst them in terms of being a compulsive read, and one that serves to challenge conventions too, is undoubtedly Michael Calvin’s Family, Life , Death and Football. But each in their different ways serving to continue to confound any suggestion that football is no longer a good read.

Who’d Be John Terry?

It’s safe to say that this week it is probably a toss-up between the recently de-knighted Fred Goodwin and former England captain John Terry for the title of most hated man in Britain. In fact, thinking about it, there’s no contest. All Fred Goodwin did was bring the UK economy to its knees before trousering a pension equivalent to the GDP of your average African country, paid for by the taxpayer.  John Terry on the other hand is a c..t.

This at any rate is the consensus of opinion currently doing the rounds at the ground of every side in the English Premiership bar Stamford Bridge, where he’s considered a geezer, a top bloke – Mr Chelsea no less.

The evidence is overwhelming. First he gets caught having an affair with the partner of his former best friend and teammate Wayne Bridge at the beginning of 2010. He’s then stripped of the England captaincy for that summer’s World Cup tournament in South Africa. Not satisfied with that, midway through England’s disastrous campaign he goes rogue and holds his own press conference, during which he asserts his leadership of the squad regardless – in the process undermining the manager and fellow teammates.

Despite this the England captaincy is returned to him by Fabio Capello after the World Cup, which, in his determination to hang on to even with a pending court case for alleged racial abuse hanging over him, results in the FA being forced to step in to take it away again, thus precipitating a fall out with Capello and the Italian’s resignation as England manager.

That Fabio Capello possesses the charm of your average terminal disease and the demeanour of a man who gets his jollies torturing kittens in his spare time has been evident since his appointment to the England job back in 2009. It’s hard to understand how someone earning 6 million a year for picking a football team can look so consistently pissed off. Yet pissed of he looks and was with the decision of the FA to strip Terry of the armband.

The truth is that John Terry has come to typify everything that’s wrong in the modern game – too much money, too much arrogance, and no humility. Even the man’s haircut seems offensive.

Moroever, his alleged offence of racial abuse is as serious as it gets for someone of his profile and status, especially at a time when the EDL is attempting to foment racial and community strife the length and breadth of the country, and especially when racism as an issue returned to the news headlines recently with the welcome conviction of two of those responsible for the murder of black teenager Stephen Lawrence at a bus stop in London back in 1993.

The point is that football cannot and does not exist in isolation from the rest of society. What takes place on the pitch and in the stands both reflects events taking place in society, and at times can even reinforce and influence them.

The notion that a man waiting to be tried for this particular offence can continue to captain the national team of country that is multiethnic, multiracial, and multicultural makes no sense. Even his continued selection for the squad shouldn’t be considered under these circumstances, which if he is will ensure non-stop media speculation and the kind of attention that could only be a distraction as England head into the European Championships in the summer.

The rumour going round Twitter is that John Terry is universally reviled by his fellow Premiership and England players – perhaps with the exception of his Chelsea teammates and fellow Chelsea England squad members. Mind you, Ashley Cole is almost as hated as Terry for the way he treated ‘our Cheryl’, while Frank Lampard is not exactly revered either, though in his case it is hard to see why.

For the rest of the season, John Terry can look forward to being the inspiration behind a plethora of new chants and songs from opposing fans, none of them kind. It won’t be pretty. But then again it is John Terry we’re talking about, and public excoriation of the undeserving rich has made a welcome return.



Gary Speed

The tragic news of the sudden death of former Welsh international footballer and current Wales manager, Gary Speed, has shocked the world of football. The outpouring of tribute from former and current players, managers, officials, and people across society in general is testament to the respect and esteem in which he was held within and without the game.

Gary enjoyed a successful club career with Leeds United, Everton, Newcastle United, Bolton Wanderers and Sheffield United, and at 42 was considered one of the most promising young managers in the game.

It is not often that a high profile death resonates so powerfully. But in the case of Gary Speed, who only yesterday appeared as a pundit on BBC’s Football Focus, it has. There will no doubt be a lot of speculation as to the cirumstances surrounding his death in the coming days, but regardless of the whys and wherefores his passing reminds us how precarious and precious life is.

Eve of Season Party


On Saturday 6 August a new football season begins. And on Friday 5 August Philosophy Football are having an eve-of-season party. Expect to be entertained and inspired in equal measure. 

Headlined by the brilliant comedy and biting commentary of Mark Steel. With poetry from the legendary Attila the Stockbroker.  And opening the show one of the hottest names in spoken word ‘Skint and Demoralised’. While filling the dancefloor late into the night, a DJ set by Two-tone legend Rhoda Dakar. 

The party is organised in association with the PCS as part of the union’s campaign for fair tax. On this theme the evening opens with a roundtable on ‘Football, Finances and Own Goals’ .  Guardian economics writer Aditya Chakrabortty will be making the case for a ‘Rooney Tax’ and is joined by Panoroma’s Andrew Jennings talking about his investigations into FIFA corruption; Kris Stewart, one of the founders of the club and their first Chief Executive on the AFC Wimbledon story plus football academic and co-author of The Football Nation John Williams offers a critique of The Premiership monster . 

The party is also a celebration of 25 years of the football fanzine When Saturday Comes being half-decent. At the recently refurbished theatre-pub The New Red Lion 271 City Road, London EC1V 4LA. Nearest tube The Angel. Show starts 7pm. Hurry, our parties always sell out! Book at or call 020 8802 3499.

Fick Fufa

T-shirt from Philosophy Football, using a slogan adopted by South African alternative fans in last year’s World Cup.

by Mark Perryman from Guardian CiF

It’s the fans who have to pick up the pieces of the mess Fifa is in, yet our voice is entirely absent in the organisation. Of course we don’t speak with one voice – our opinions and experiences vary – but since I’ve been going to World Cups, France 1998, Fifa has been held in the lowest possible regard by almost all of us supporters. Those who run Fifa have successively turned this most wonderful of tournaments into a corporate jamboree.

Not many fans are anti-globalisation campaigners, but when we see the coachloads of sponsors arriving at grounds to take up thousands of seats that should be going to fans we know something is wrong. When we are prevented from hanging our flags because a St George’s cross isn’t a corporate sponsor’s logo we know Fifa values its contracts more. And when we see our game run by businessmen who see football as a way to make a fast buck and politicians who use our game to enhance their reputation we know it is in the hands of the wrong sort of people.

Albert Camus, existentialist author and half-decent goalie, once wrote: “All that I know most surely about morality and obligations I owe to football.” Well, not as long as Sepp Blatter and his ilk are the game’s guardians.

Worldwide, most fans have three demands: as many tickets for World Cups as possible should go to the fans, not the sponsors, and they should be at the lowest possible price. And all games should be screened on free-to-air TV, not overpriced subscription channels. Above all, serving Fifa should not be a job for life nor a way to get rich quick. If football’s bureaucrats, many of whom do an excellent job, but some we know do anything but, were outnumbered three to one at a Fifa congress by the players, coaches and fans, it would transform the organisation for the better overnight.