Not to long ago black footballers in the United Kingdom were frequently faced with monkey chants from the terraces and racial abuse from their opponents. Now the problem seems to have been mostly eradicated from the British game and it is not unusual to have a back player in the football league (approximately 25% of professional players are of black origin). The problem might have crept out of the British game but a series of incidents over the past decade throughout Europe suggests the problem is still rife in mainland Europe.
During the 1970s and 1980s in the British Isles footballers from different ethnic backgrounds were abused regularly from members of the crowd making monkey chants, singing racist or anti-semitic songs and also chants closely linked to patriotism. It is believed that this was all linked to far-right groups who seemed to be using football matches to recruit new members and to hand out literature.
Far-right groups like the National Front (NF) used their magazine ‘Bulldog’ to promote competitions amongst fans like for the title of ‘most racist ground in Britain’. Copies of ‘Bulldog’ were openly sold at grounds across the country and clubs like Chelsea, Leeds United, Milwall, Newcastle United, Arsenal and West Ham were seen to have strong fascist elements. After the Heysel stadium disaster in the 1980s, British National Party leaflets were found on the terraces!
During the 1990s the British government introduced measures to combat racism in football alongside footballs governing bodies as well as at club level, supporter level and organisations like Kick Racism out of Football. The 1990s saw a massive decline in racism in the British game and now football fans will hardly ever hear racist abuse at football stadiums in Britain.
The British authorities and various other parties seem to have grasped hold of the problem and helped to eradicate the minority who use football as a tool to vent racism, but the same can not be said for other European nations. The problem of racism in mainland Europe is being described by some as ‘endemic’. It seems as though some football federations are in denial of the problem even though players, fans and ethnic minorities are abused regularly.
Just like the National Front used to target football grounds in Britain in the 1970s and 1980s, neo-nazi and neo-fascist groups are now targeting football grounds around Europe for recruitment. The worst affected clubs are Lazio and Verona in Italy, PSG in France and Real Zaragoza and Real Madrid in Spain. A series of incidents in Southern Europe has highlighted this over the past few years.
In November, 2004, Spain entertained England in a friendly match at the Bernabeu in Madrid. The fact that England were outclassed by Spain and lost the match 1-0 seems to have been forgotten for different reasons. Thousands of Spanish fans in the stadium appeared to be neanderthal in their racist chanting as they were making monkey noises every time second half substitute Shaun Wright-Philips touched the ball. The chanting was clearly heard by millions of English fans sat watching the match on the BBC and the commentators condemned the chanting and stated there was no need of it in the modern game.
In response to this incident the British Sports Minister (Richard Carbon) wrote to his Spanish counterpart insisting that some action be taken. The English FA were already preparing to write to FIFA and UEFA in the aftermath of the under-21 encounter between the two nations when Glenn Johnson, Darren Bent and Carlton Cole were the targets of racist chanting.
The British media blamed Spanish coach Luis Aragones for the incident as prior to the match a Spanish TV crew filmed him trying to motivate Jose Antonio Reyes by making racist references to his team-mate, Thierry Henry. He used the phrase “Demeustra que eres major que ese negro de mierda”, which translates in English “Show that you’re better than that shitty black guy”.
The Spanish FA declined to take any action, but after an investigation UEFA fined the federation $87,000 and warned that any future incidents would be punished more severely (like suspension from major international tournaments or playing behind closed doors).
A few years later football in Spain was in the media again for the wrong reasons. In February 2006, Barcelona striker Samuel Eto’o suffered from racially-driven verbal abuse by fans of Real Zaragoza. During the match fans began making monkey-like chants whenever he had possession of the ball and peanuts were hurled onto the pitch. Eto’o threatened to leave the pitch in protest but his team mates calmed him down. Barcelona won the match 4-1 and Eto’o danced like a monkey when he scored stating he did it as rival fans were treating him like a monkey. Surprisingly referee Fernando Carmona Mendez did not mention the incidents in his match report.
Real Zaragoza were only fined a measly 600 Euros by the Spanish FA and several other clubs were also fined during the course of the season for similar incidents. Atheltico Madrid were fined 6000 Euros for racial abuse of Espanyol’s Cameroon goalkeeper Carlo Kameni and Deportivo La Coruna, Albacete and Getafe received fines for similar incidents
A similar incident to the Eto’o one happened in Italy with Ivorian defender Marc Zoro. The Messina defender threatened to halt a Serie A game after suffering racial abuse from the visiting Inter Milan supporters. It is also well know that fans of Italy’s capital club, Lazio, have supporters who have strong fascist views. Ex Lazio player Paolo Di Canio landed himself in trouble for making the fascist salute to the Lazio fans after scoring in the Rome derby.
In Paris the Mayor is worried about the cities image due to recent events at Paris SG’s stadium, the Parc de Princes, as racism has become increasingly common with insults and monkey chants directed at black players. Far-right gangs have also looked to fight black and Arab members of rival gangs at the stadium during games. When Israeli side Hapoel Tel Avis visited for a UEFA Cup match in November 2006, a plains clothes police officer shot into a crowd of skirmishing football fans as he tired to protect a Hapoel Tel Aviv supporter, killing one person in the process. This incident is thought to have resulted from Paris SG fans chanting anti-semitism songs during their sides 4-2 defeat
In Central and Eastern Europe problems of racism and anti-semitism still exist. During England’s Euro 2004 qualifier in Slovakia their black players suffered racist abuse from the crowd which highlighted the countries problem to the international media. However, the problem existed long before England’s visit. Players from black ethnic backgrounds playing their trade in Poland, Hungary, Slovakia and Romania are subject to monkey chanting and being pelted with bananas every week.
In October, 2006, when Blackburn Rovers visited Krakow in Poland for a UEFA Cup tie, Benni McCarthy claimed he was abused by Wisla Krakow defender Nikola Mijailovic. The English FA wrote a letter to UEFA to ask them to investigate the allegations of racism whilst Wisla claimed they had already investigated the incident and found nothing to substantiate the claim. The referee also failed to mention the incident in his report but UEFA took action against the player and banned him for five games.
One nation in Central Europe you will be surprised to hear is suffering from racism is Germany. A series of events of the past year have highlighted the problem to the world’s media. When striker Patrick Owomoyela was being considered for the German 2006 World Cup squad, he was branded as ‘non-German’ by an extreme right party and another German player, Gerald Asamoah, was subject to abuse in a Cup tie in Rostock. During Germany’s Euro 2008 qualifier against Slovakia, in Bratislava, German fans sang discriminatory songs. German fans were again in the sport light when fans of Alemannia Aachen chanted racist abuse directed against asylum seekers. The German FA fined the club a measly 50,000 Euros.
It seems as though racism is still rife in European football and the problem looks as though it is not going to go away overnight or be brushed under the carpet easily. European footballs governing body needs to take firmer action against fans of clubs who are guilty and the clubs respective national football federation need to back their ruling up. Perhaps certain European countries should look at how the British have managed to reduce racism in their grounds as an example on how to tackle racism.