NORMAN GILLER does not believe that football’s bosses are doing enough to rid the game and the stands of a scourge
You had to see the bananas being thrown and to hear the monkey chants to know just how deep and despicable racism had become, not only scarring the face of the Beautiful Game but also scaring anybody with a sense of humanity and fair play.
I am talking late 1960s and into much of the 1970s, when black footballers in the English league had to suffer vile abuse every time they crossed the touchline.
As a reporter covering more than 100 matches a season for the Daily Express, I was so sickened and appalled by the behaviour to consider walking away from the game and the job that I loved. I lasted until 1973 when I jumped ship while holding the prestigious post of chief football writer. The racists and hooligans – who made every train journey to a football match a nightmare – had won. But in a way I have to thank them for helping me find a freelance path that has given me a wealth of adventures and, just occasionally, rewarding achievements.
Now it must be the sons of those ignoramuses of the 1960s and 70s who are making themselves heard in the most obnoxious way possible. The racists are back, and football must adopt zero tolerance to make sure they are silenced.
Whatever the outcome of the investigations into what John Terry might have said to Anton Ferdinand at Loftus Road two weeks ago, football bosses must sit up and take notice that the problem goes much deeper.
If only for the sake of youngsters, the authorities need to demand exemplary behaviour from the game’s role models. As England captain, named in Fabio Capello’s provisional squad for the forthcoming internationals against Spain and Sweden, there is an expectation of the highest standards of Terry.
We do not want a return to the ugly days when black footballers had to run a gauntlet of hate. I recently caught up with Clyde Best – one of the first targets – when he was on a visit to London from his Bermuda home for a theatre appearance.
“It was all bewildering,” he said, speaking in his slow Bermudan drawl that had become Americanised by a long stay as a footballer and businessman in California. “As I ran on to the pitch, home or away, bananas would be thrown at me and there were stupid monkey chants.
“I was so lucky to have a wonderful manager in Ron Greenwood and his assistant John Lyall. Both were always supportive and stressing it was a small minority. Bobby Moore and Geoff Hurst also went out of their way to look after me, and I loved my time at West Ham despite the few idiots.”
While Clyde – now 60 – was made to feel at home by most West Ham fans, there was a small element of National Front followers who polluted the Upton Park terraces – and made their presence felt with obscene chants aimed at any black players, even if – like Best and Ade Coker – they were wearing the claret and blue of West Ham.
The entertaining West Bromwich team of the 1970s featured what manager Ron Atkinson dubbed “The Three Degrees” – Laurie Cunningham, Brendon Batson and Cyrille Regis. They used to get huge abuse at West Ham and many other grounds, but often silenced the morons in the best way possible, with winning football.
The Atkinson diet of all-out attacking play meant that the trio were applauded and appreciated by most fair-minded supporters, but Atkinson’s “Three Degrees” line would not get past the PC brigade today. Of course, it was a racist comment – made when he thought the microphone was off – that cost Big Ron his career as a television pundit.
Football is not the only sport that attracts racists. One of the sickest sights I have seen in all my years following sport was at Wembley Arena in 1979 when Marvin Hagler ripped the middleweight world title from Alan Minter in three savage rounds.
Minter had said that “no black man is going to take away my title”. It stirred up the extremist element among his supporters, and once Minter lost, they bombarded the ring with beer cans and bottles during a 30-minute riot. Hagler had to be smuggled out of the ring without getting the world championship belt.
Marvelous Marvin, a gentleman away from the ring, told me during my stint as Laureus Awards scriptwriter: “That was a sad night for boxing in general and me in particular. There were some people in lynch mob mood. It was really ugly, and it sickened me that I could not have the honour of having the belt wrapped round my waist.
“I had dreamt of that moment for a long time, and it was taken away from me by idiots. I didn’t think that sort of thing happened in England.”
It made me feel ashamed. What a way to treat a great champion.
There is no place in sport – or in life – for racists. As Gentleman Clyde Best said some 40 years ago: “I want to be judged by the colour of my club shirt not the colour of my skin.”
MY FELLOW FOOTBALL WRITERS who had the good judgement to elect Scott Parker as Footballer of the Year can now come out of hiding.
Anybody who’s been watching Parker’s performances since joining Tottenham will have to concede that he is a class act. He concentrates on doing the simple things, not just well but brilliantly, riding shotgun for Luka Modric and setting free players of distinction like Gareth Bale and Rafa van der Vaart.
Okay I am biased, but Tottenham are the most exciting soccer show in town at the moment. Even QPR manager Neil Warnock was big enough to admit he felt like applauding some of their football as Spurs dismantled his Rangers team on Sunday.
Those who think Parker is just a workhorse underrate his skill. He has always been a master of the ball – have a look here for proof.
My thoughts are with my old mate Harry Redknapp as he recovers from minor heart surgery. Most Spurs supporters are at last accepting him as an outstanding manager, and we need him healthy, happy and firing on all cylinders. Get well and keep well, Aitch.
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