Football’s almost home, but the family is still dysfunctional

IT’S HARD to get too excited about the resumption of big time football. Unless you are a die-hard fan of the participating clubs, watching a game that has all the ambience of a pre-match kick around (Arsenal’s Leno may disagree), really is unappetising.

Of course, we know why they are taking place, to satisfy the broadcasters who have already paid-out their fees. The most logical thing to have done was to abandon the season, although the Football Association surely didn’t fancy having thousands of Liverpool fans besieging them at their headquarters and on social media.

As it is, Liverpool’s triumph will be a hollow one to some extent. No celebrations, no glorious march-past and no heaving pubs full of emotional scousers. The most captivating Liverpool team since 1988 will be denied their moment of true anointment. For now.

The return of football has been an opportunity for the game to assert its self-importance, the powerful messaging of Black Lives Matter has joined similar demonstrations like “Help for Heroes” and “Love the  NHS” to shape football as a social commentator and voice of the people.

The sentiment is absolutely right, but wearing shirts with the message emblazoned across the back could prove to be a distraction to remove any idea that football is receiving preferential treatment. As with most aspects of inequality and prejudice, the remedy or reaction invariably becomes a case of frantic over-compensation. Importantly, by making gestures like taking the knee, it does not absolve football from doing something genuinely constructive about the problem. We have, after all, been here before with largely ignored campaigns.

It will be interesting to see how clubs eventually deal with the problem of racism when normal service is resumed. Will they eject fans who spout obscenities, racism, homophobia and sexism? Or will people merely look the other way, laugh uncomfortably or ignore? Society tolerates unacceptable behaviour and attitudes for far too long – just take your pick. We were talking about racism at football in the 1970s, we were discussing climate change back in the 1980s and we were bemoaning the “glass ceiling” in the corporate world in the 1990s. We are still challenging all of these problems today. Sadly, we are seeing a resurgence of racism, anti-semitism and homophobia, brought on by a combination of the 2008 financial crisis, Brexit and a general shift in the political mood around the world.

From football’s perspective, there has never been a better time to eradicate racism and racist fans. The coronavirus has been a time when many people have decided to be civil to each other, while others, such as bull-necked, barrel-bellied right wingers have begrudged black people their right to say “enough”. In the case of slavery, how can anyone be an apologist unless they have no education at all? Or realise that removing memorials of a time of inequality is a very appropriate act?

Meanwhile, there has been a degree of frustration in society that has boiled over at times. The trouble is, some of those right-wingers are football fans and you can be sure they will be back inside football stadiums when we are allowed to return. But how do you change the mindset of those who are stuck in a less-than-perfect past when the pink of empire dominated pull-down maps in schoolrooms?

We should all be gagging for football to return, but there are so many things that we need to come back to restore the balance to our lives. Pubs, restaurants, cinemas, theatres, holidays and, above all, schools. There are more important things than football that need to be back in action regardless of how virtuous the world’s most media-hungry sport appears to be. I’m not sure bringing back a pale imitation of the game we love is really satisfying a yearning – especially as the economic impact of the past six months has yet to be felt across the globe.



Photo: PA

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