Hatred within football is penetrating every level of the game – it does not respect league tables, geography or levels of professionality. This was highlighted by Worcester City player Lee Smith (formerly of my home town Gloucester City FC) recently tweeting “Respect to all the heroes 11/11/11 now to all the illegal *****, **** off out of are country all, call of duty could become a reality – kill um”. Terry and Suarez might make better headlines but believe me that this sort of hatred is not affected by your ability on the pitch.
When confronted, Mr Smith responded, “It is my right to write what I think – but I didn’t mean any offence”. Sadly for Lee, but probably for the good of everyone else, it is not his “right” to use threatening and abusive language. Indeed, it is a criminal offence (although I am not holding my breath for a prosecution).
Mr Smith later said he had only meant the comments as “friendly banter”, I wonder if this was the same “friendly banter” that Ron Atkinson was using when he describes (live on air) Marcel Desailly as a ‘lazy fucking thick nigger’. Or perhaps it was the same “friendly banter” that fans up and down the country use when they sing the ‘Adebayor chant’.
On the positive side, it looks as though Worcester City has acted quickly and decisively by suspending the player indefinitely while a police investigation is carried out (note to Blatter that a simple handshake is not sufficient). This also comes in the same week that we see two Southampton fans arrested for homophobic chanting during Saturday’s (19 November) game against Brighton & Hove Albion.
Every level of the game from youth football in the local parks through to the head of FIFA have an obligation to be seen to be tackling this problem. Not just racism, but the hatred that runs through footballing culture. It has to be attacked at every level if we are going to see the level of change that we so badly need.