Saturday, February 29 2020


Football’s worrying slip back towards racism

Update: December, 07/2018 - 09:00
Slip-up: A banana skin is seen on the pitch as Arsenal striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang celebrates. — Photo AFP
Viet Nam News

by Paul Kennedy

I went to see Liverpool play a game at Anfield on May 4, 1987 against Watford. It wasn’t a particularly good match and the home side won by a single goal.

Ian Rush scored it late on. It was his last goal in a Liverpool shirt before moving to Juventus the following season.

The game itself was pretty dull but I remember it well for the wrong reasons.

Around that time, Liverpool were being linked with Watford winger John Barnes and a deal would eventually happen in the months that followed.

During the 90 minutes of that match, Barnes was booed every time he touched the ball by Liverpool supporters because of the colour of his skin.

I can’t repeat what the fans were singing at him but it was nothing short of abhorrent. I was 14 years old at the time and knew no better.

Thankfully Barnes ignored the request by the supporters not to sign for Liverpool and he put pen to paper.

The following season Liverpool’s stadium needed some emergency construction work, so it wasn’t until four matches in that they played their first game at home.

Barnes scored a cracker and Liverpool won 2-0. In those 90 minutes supporters’ attitudes changed and the Jamaica-born striker because an instant hit.

For me he was one of, if not the, greatest players I’ve ever seen for Liverpool. What Barnes could do with a ball and his left foot was simply majestic.

But even more impressive was that he changed the way supporters thought and how they behaved.

There’s an iconic photograph of him kicking a banana away that had been thrown onto the pitch by Everton supporters. The photo for me sums up exactly what Barnes was about. He kicked out racism from the game.

Sure, there had been some great black players before him, Laurie Cunningham, Brendon Batson and Cyrille Regis were trailblazers at West Brom in the late 1970s and did wonders for the game.

But Barnes was, in my opinion, more important.

And because he is from my generation, he opened my own eyes to the sheer ludicrously of hating, booing and throwing a banana at a footballer just because of the colour of their skin.

Thankfully that moronic behaviour has disappeared from the English game. Up until last Sunday at least anyway.

Arsenal entertained their north London rivals Tottenham in a match that can be best described as an ill-tempered, fiery affair.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang of Arsenal scored and, rightly or wrongly, celebrated in the direction of the visiting fans.

Up stepped van driver Averof Panteli from Norwich, who hurled a banana skin at the player. He has since been charged by police with throwing a missile onto the pitch and is being investigated for racial abuse.

If convicted I hope they don’t just throw a banana skin at him, but throw the book at him. In fact the whole library should be chucked at the mindless idiot and he should be banned from ever attending a football match for the rest of his life.

Since I left England to live abroad in 2011, I have become part of an ethnic minority. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I’m seeking asylum, but I’m certainly seeking a better life and I believe I have found that in Viet Nam.

If the roles were reversed I would be castigated in the United Kingdom and told to “get back to where I came from”, and “stop taking our jobs and our women”. I would be shunned, ridiculed and in some cases, violently attacked. 

Thankfully that hasn’t happened in Ha Noi, just the opposite in fact. I’ve been welcomed with open arms and I’m proud to call this city my home.

But I do worry about what’s happening in England, not just on the football pitch.

It may have just been the actions of a man with the brain the size of a pea, but throwing a banana skin at a black footballer could signal a dangerous underlying truth about what is going on in the country right now.

I hope football supporters, and people in general, don’t slip up. — VNS

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