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This week I am going to take a break from my usual and reflect on The Euro finals. It was a good finals with plenty of exciting matches although 2 teams with a cautious approach got to the final. But that is not what I want to talk about. It is racism and bad behaviour. Is England to blame? One of the earliest major incidents was the Christian Eriksen one. It turned Denmark into the neutrals favourite and meant a level of respect was shown by fans and players alike when playing them, except for England who booed their national anthem and their players as they did other teams. A great player no matter what team Several teams got beaten on penalties, but I didn’t hear of any scapegoating of players or racist abuse because of it, except for England. I have watched many finals of all types since I started watching and I have never seen players taking off their medals before, except for England. England take the lead in the dark side England rightly take pride in being the home of football. They seem to take a perverse pride in also being the worst in bad behaviour. I started going to matches in England in the 70’s and it was a revelation how much police there were and how tight the security was. The bile between opposing fans and the many hooligan firms that cropped up was frightening. Now pubs could erupt in sickening violence if a stray innocent(s) from the wrong side popped in. This was in general contrast to Ireland where I remember being at an Ireland match in Lansdowne road and a group of Shamrock Rovers and Sligo Rovers fans were congregated in a pub. They started singing songs slagging their opponents and the reply was always an even wittier song which seemed to be made up on the spot. It was great fun. Are England the worst? Now, only an idiot would suggest that bad behaviour in football is confined to England but are they the worst? I say yes. If I am aware that England fans are about, I am cautious and ready to get out quickly if necessary. I have also had great times with England supporters and have been in many grounds in the home section without getting into trouble as an away supporter. I learned to jump inside. I have seen England fans wanting to take on the home supporters though when in the same situation and I cannot understand their logic at all. They take a perverse pride in standing up for their colours. This whole area is complicated, though. Football has slowly but surely become a place where cheating and bad behaviour is tolerated. I saw Robbie Savage of Wales commenting on the Euros recently and he wanted the Wales players to start kicking their opponents to stop them going up the field. A commentator should never encourage cheating but it happens all the time. The players need to be clever is often the euphemism for cheating. Pull a jersey slyly, take a dive, back into a player and go down so you get the foul, surround the referee, claim everything, play mind games and probably others that I am not even aware of. It is endemic and it is not going away soon. Can we show love instead? Would you do that to your own kid? So now we have Bukayo Saka as the touchlight for the darkness that is in football? Nonsense, surely? It seems like he has done 2 things wrong, he missed the last penalty and he is black. 2 things he can do nothing about makes it acceptable for him to be abused? Gareth Southgate and Stuart Pearce memorably missed crucial penalties for England and got hammered for it, yes, but not for the colour of their skin. It is horrible for any player to be abused for something they can do nothing about. They make a mistake on the pitch and get hounded, sometimes for the rest of their career. Emmanuel Eboue was one such at Arsenal. He fell foul of the wrong type of Arsenal supporter and his career never recovered. When you are playing, you have been selected by the manager and will try your best. But you will miss goals and passes, give away fouls, get sent off, score an own goal, miss a penalty, fail to stop a player or move to an opposing side and myriad other things can happen even to the best players. This can mean you get booed all your life. And if you are black or a race that is not white, you get that anyway. It is certain and inevitable even if you are a big superstar who is well liked like our own Wrighty. What’s the answer? So what can be done? First thing to look at for me, is the waters that this abuse swims in. It is racism, it is hooliganism, it is cheating, it is club and country tribalism, it is bad behaviour. There have been so many efforts to curb racism and it is difficult to say with what success. The same with all the other elements mentioned. Some progress has been made but mostly in the area of security, banning and punishments. I feel that we need to reach people’s hearts first. The only way I can think of to do so is to imagine the people being abused are our own children. I would be heartbroken at the abuse Bukayo Saka is receiving if I was his parent. My beautiful fun teenager who has stupendous talent is given horrific abuse because a goalkeeper made a good decision, and he is black? It is nonsense, surely? My pride in his amazing achievement at being selected as the crucial penalty taker for his country is dependent on sporting achievement being suspended? That he has to win? If, in any sports, only one person or team can win, it is not a sport. We have to be able to accept that the other side can win, and congratulate them, and determine that next time it will be me, us. Our Children? They ARE our own children so we should treat them as such. We feel their pain, we let out a collective groan of disappointment that we couldn’t win but we rush over to hug them, to show we love their courage and we support them no matter what. Did he know he would get such hate when he grew up? I pinpointed England at the start. We must not be fooled, though, it is in all countries to a greater or lesser extent. We need to call out our own fouls, stop applauding any cheating, stop booing players, countries and refs, and finally, start treating all participants as if they are our own children. Can we make a start? Can we stop calling Tottenham shit? Can we stop saying we hate them and standing up to show it? Have fun with the opponents, but remember they are somebody’s children and an accident of a different sort could have made us Spud supporters. Or is that too much to ask? Gareth Southgate showed us the way
Trying to see light in the darkness. Season 1981-82 continued our lack of ambition. 3 points for a win was brought in but we had got a taste for selling and didn’t care about that. Frank Stapleton was sold to Manchester United for the then large sum of £900,000. So last year our best player was sold, Liam Brady, and now again our best player was flogged. Stapleton had been our leading goalscorer every year since SuperMac got injured and retired. Man Utd had ambition, as always, and were never afraid to splash the cash. Stapleton, being homegrown, was on a lower wage than some brought in on transfers. Again, I don’t remember much anger directed at Stapleton. He had been playing for several years with only one FA Cup to show for it. Our best player, playing for Man U, definitely not what we wanted The Irish connection was dwindling, only Pat Jennings, David O’Leary and John Devine were left. Dubliner Paul Gorman was trying to come through but he never made it and went down through the divisions in his career. Although I still liked Terry Neill, it seemed like no-one high up at Arsenal had ambition. Yes we finished 3rd in 1981 and qualified for the UEFA Cup but was that it? We’re ok. Keep our money in our pockets. They didn’t seem to care that Villa won the League and Ipswich came second, both teams that were smaller than us but with bigger ambition. We were letting the light go out Well, it didn’t go well for them. This season Liverpool would win. Ipswich, again second, then Man U with our top goalscorer, and then? I don’t even want to say who were next. The Spuds! Playing attractive football, full of big names, buying top players and not selling their best. This was the pattern for the teams around us. They didn’t sell their best. Only Arsenal. Yes, I guess 5th was ok. We were ok. We were not Arsenal but we were ok. Would we ever get our Arsenal back? And so the Spuds? Laughing at us. Beat us 3-1 at Highbury and drew 2-2 at White Hart Lane. Sent us home crying in the 3rd round of the FA Cup 1-0. Despite the fact that the league position was better than the dark days of the 70’s, this felt worse. The flair had gone, we were flat. But at least we now had no top player to sell. Don’t get me too wrong, we still had good players, Jennings, Sansom, O’Leary, Rix, Sunderland and others were top players, but our goalscorer and our creator were gone. All because of a lack of ambition. A feeling that ok was enough. Liverpool knocked us out of the League Cup in the 4th round 3-0 after extra time and a replay. We started the league with 2 losses and 2 draws out of our first five so we knew early on we would never really challenge. We were beaten by Fc Winterslag, now Genk, from Belgium in the UEFA Cup on November 3 and they celebrated wildly thinking they had beaten a crack English team. So in early January when the Spuds knocked us out of the FA Cup that was it for the season. I suppose the board were looking around to see if there was anyone else we could sell. Could the light come from people with dark skin? But were there green shoots? Well, yes there was. Paul Davis and Chris Whyte came into the team as regulars. Davis, a combative midfielder, was to become an Arsenal stalwart and win many trophies later on. Whyte formed a partnership with David O’Leary, replacing Willie Young. What was good about that aside from being good footballers? They were black and it started Arsenal’s association with black players. Brendan Batson had been there mid seventies but never made a regular slot. Many started to appear over the next years, Viv Anderson, David Rocastle, Michael Thomas, later on came the Arsenal Fan Club of Bulgaria’s favourite, Ian Wright, and many others were to become club legends. Paul Davis had a great career at Arsenal, if a little under appreciated For me it was, and still is a great thing, to hear, every single time I have been at Arsenal stadiums, the chant for Rocky, because he’s one of our own. Himself and Ian Wright were childhood friends and he pushed Wrighty into believing in himself, despite being a few years younger, he told him he could make it as a professional. Rocky was right about Wright. Now, you cannot have a list of the best Arsenal players ever without plenty of black players high on the list. We love this guy at ASCB They shined their light on English football But what was it like for black players in England? At that time, virtually none had played for England. They got subjected to terrible abuse amid suspicions that they were soft (hah, tell that to Sol Campbell). Fans thought nothing of raining down all sorts of horrible insults every time they came near the ball. Sport should be about fairness, equality, a meritocracy. You are striving to be the best and that is all that should matter. But imagine having your family there, with you having achieved your only dream, to play football at the highest level, and all they hear are the disgusting names they call you. If it was me, I would have been crying inside for the whole match and humiliated that my family heard that. And if it was my kid, I would be heartbroken for them. Chris Whyte formed a solid partnership with David O'Leary Luckily those Arsenal pioneers were made of sterner stuff. Without them the glory days wouldn’t have appeared. But black players still face discrimination and abuse. As I have said, the world should be a meritocracy, where the only thing that matters is how well you can do something. The 80’s were a period of fan hooliganism, of non-white faces appearing on sports pitches, of unspeakable tragedies, but without the courage, the resilience and the inner strength of the black players, and, I believe, the overall fairness and goodness of the majority of sports fans, the joy and triumphs they brought to so many teams would never have happened. And gave us our best days Michael Thomas threw our hearts up in the air in 1989 when we beat Liverpool at Anfield, Ian Wright’s goal in the 1993 FA Cup final against Sheffield Wednesday, the magical Henry goals, the rarer Viera goals, and so many others contributed to great nights for us Arsenal fans. And all the top teams can say the same. Those idiots who, even to this day think it is ok to chant racist abuse, are wrong. You are not Arsenal if you do it. It is not ok to be racist. Kids are entitled to appear on a football pitch, with their family there, and everyone has the best day of their lives. And if I can get back to Arsenal and 1982, it was not ok to be ok and going nowhere. Would 1983 be any better? I certainly didn’t think so.