Has what one might term the racist pendulum swung too far? From callous indifference to politically correct obsession? One asks the question, plainly, in the wake of the accusations made against Luis Suárez of Liverpool and John Terry of Chelsea. Neither is remotely a plaster saint. Each has what the coppers call form.
Terry has been heavily fined for coarse behaviour at Heathrow, jeering at American passengers devastated by the atrocity of 9/11, and famously urinated into a glass in a nightclub. Suárez, in the past, has bitten an opponent while playing in Holland for Ajax, punched out what would have been a winning goal for Ghana against his Uruguay team in the last World Cup and exulted when, having been sent off, the resulting penalty was missed. There seems no doubt that he called Manchester United’s Patrice Evra “un negrito”.
Well out of order, as they say, but was it really worth an eight-match suspension, plus (negligible for a football star) a £40,000 fine? Terry, meanwhile, is being prosecuted, not like Suárez by the Football Association but by the Metropolitan police, after a TV viewer reported his stream of alleged abuse against Queens Park Rangers’ Anton Ferdinand. Ferdinand says he didn’t hear it and Terry swears that it was taken out of context.
Long ago, I was the first senior football journalist to take up the cudgels on behalf of black players and have the short story to prove it. “Black Magic” concerned a young player discriminated against by a racist coach who had the last laugh when he joined another club and scored against his old team. Initially published in the Evening News, it was reprinted, to my delight, in the Voice.
My long-standing friend Paul Davis, a splendid black inside forward with Arsenal who should have played for England, has published a telling piece describing the racist abuse he first suffered when he himself was a young player.
I myself got into hot PC water when daring to say on an Irish radio programme that young black players from single parent families who suddenly found themselves millionaires had a difficult time of it.
“Gira e rigira”, it turns and turns again, as the Italians say. But why Alan Hansen should abase himself for using the word “coloured”, ask me not. We must all tread so carefully.
Brian Glanville is a football writer and novelist. He is a columnist for the Sunday Times and World Soccer. His novel, The Rise of Gerry Logan, recently republished by Faber, was described by Franz Beckenbauer as “the best football book ever written”.