from the guardian
Racism within football lingers, say Sol Campbell and Garth Crooks
A discussion at the Guardian's Open Weekend raised two key points: the need to tackle racism in dressing rooms and for action on clubs' failure to interview black managerial candidates
The failure of Liverpool's Luis Suárez, left, to shake hands with Manchester United's Patrice Evra prompted a summit. Photograph: Tom Jenkins for the Guardian
Asked at the Guardian Open Weekend discussion on racism in football whether last month's summit at 10 Downing Street was meaningful or "a bit of spin", Garth Crooks, who took part in that meeting of the football authorities with David Cameron, barely pondered before answering: "I think it was a bit of spin."
That encapsulated Crooks's forthrightness, with the other speaker, Sol Campbell, on the game's battle against racism, whose renewal has served up this season's ugliest surprise. Crooks, who forged his First Division playing career through the spit and monkey chants of the 1970s and 1980s, and Campbell, who recalled feeling "physically sick" at the first Premier League abuse he suffered, at Sunderland's old ground, spoke directly of the serious work that needs still to be done.
"I am from Newham, one of the most multicultural places in Britain," Campbell said. "The first time I experienced abuse was at Roker Park, it was an old-fashioned ground, and there were pockets of monkey chants around the ground. I felt physically sick, but I was young, I had to keep my focus, and get through it."
The hour of airing the fraught issue produced two key concerns: that clubs must tackle dressing-room racism, for so long unmentioned until now, and a call for action similar to the NFL's "Rooney rule", to nurture a generation of black coaches. Crooks repeatedly emphasised his point: that the clubs, leagues and Football Association, and the players' union, the Professional Footballers' Association, must take a lead. "A whole framework has been developed to deal with supporters guilty of racist abuse, and the clubs can have such people banned for life," said Crooks, a long-standing anti‑racism campaigner with Kick It Out. "But when star players are accused, their clubs support them. The PFA has a policy of not getting involved in disputes between players, and the whole system breaks down."
He argued that outside football, if an allegation of racism is made against an employee, the employer must take it seriously and investigate, but when Liverpool's Luis Suárez racially abused Manchester United's Patrice Evra, and at Chelsea, awaiting captain John Terry's trial for alleged racially aggravated harassment of Sunderland's Anton Ferdinand, which Terry denies, the clubs have been wholly supportive of the accused players. "The very idea that Chelsea would ask the court to delay the case because they were busy, showed their priorities: they needed [John Terry] on the field," Crooks said.
Crooks, who burst into first-team football as a teenager for Stoke City, then played for Tottenham Hotspur, and Campbell, the former Spurs, Arsenal and England central defender, agreed that racism lurks within the dressing room. "I didn't experience any at Spurs or Arsenal," Campbell said, "but then again I was the captain at Arsenal." Crooks argued that illustrated that the culture of the dressing room depends on the lead shown by its strong and dominant characters.
Crooks had said in advance that he did not want to talk about the rampant abuse he suffered as a player because "it is too painful". Nor did he want to dwell on the progress made in cleansing grounds of abuse by supporters, which Campbell recognised has been huge. Crooks insisted on talking about the problems that remain. He said nobody should have been surprised that the incidents that exposed the issue this season happened between players, illustrating his point with a vivid insight into the football dressing room.
"It is the place they won't let cameras into," Crooks said, "because they don't want you to know what goes on in there. You think of it as an arena for sporting endeavour, but Sol and I know it as something different. It is a bear pit. It is where the best, and the worst, of human nature comes out."
It is, Crooks said, inevitable that what happens in the dressing room can "spill out" on to the field of play. The challenge now, both men affirmed, is to make clear racism in any environment is entirely unacceptable – with Crooks explicit that the PFA should be involved.
Both supported the principle of the Rooney rule, which requires a black candidate to be included for interview when a coaching position becomes vacant, as they reflected on the stubbornly meagre number of black coaches and managers in English football. Currently there are four, among the 92 clubs – Terry Connor, recently appointed as interim manager at Wolverhampton Wanderers, Chris Hughton at Birmingham City, Chris Powell at Charlton and Keith Curle, newly in the post at Notts County.
"So often the black coach is appointed by default, when all other options are exhausted," Campbell argued. "Then they are not given enough time; it needs a couple of seasons. Clubs need to be more patient with black managers – and fans [do], too."
Crooks compared the hiring of football managers to jobs in other industries, often awarded to associates or otherwise not strictly on merit and revealed himself to be an advocate of the Rooney rule. Campbell said he believed the US had shown itself to be "more forward thinking, more willing to change", than Britain, where the PFA chairman, Gordon Taylor, advocates the rule but there appears little appetite among clubs to embrace such a principle.
That prompted an exasperated contribution from a member of the audience, who said some of the attitudes in the football boardrooms remain rooted in the 1950s. Crooks said of the Rooney rule: "All I am asking is that black coaches are given a fair crack of the whip, an opportunity."
The Downing Street summit on 22 February was attended by the FA, the Premier League, the Football League and Kick It Out, and was prompted by the refusal of Suárez to shake Evra's hand when Liverpool played United at Old Trafford 11 days earlier. Both former players said racial abuse on Twitter simply exposed the prejudice still lurking among fans and in wider society, and Campbell, who has long been abused by some Spurs fans for moving to Arsenal, said he will not go on Twitter because "it will open the whole thing up".
Crooks argued that Liverpool's attitude to Evra, continuing to accuse the United player of making a false allegation even after the FA-appointed disciplinary panel ruled Suárez had abused him, could discourage other black players from coming forward. According to the official statement following the Downing Street meeting: "The football authorities have agreed to work together on a way forward and report back to government before the start of the next season."
Crooks said the government's involvement – brought about, he believes, because Downing Street feared the Suárez affair was becoming "a national embarrassment" ahead of the Olympics – was valuable, to the extent that "the football authorities were told to come back with an action plan to tackle racism, and we have to make sure that happens. We – all of you – must ensure they do, and hold them to account for it."
The Rooney rule
The Rooney rule, named after Dan Rooney, the Pittsburgh Steelers owner , below, who oversaw its introduction in 2003, requires NFL teams to interview at least one ethnic minority candidate for head coach and senior sporting positions when there is a vacancy.
The rule is not voluntary and is enforced by the NFL; soon after its introduction the Detroit Lions were fined $200,000 (£126,000) for not interviewing an African-American candidate for the vacant position of head coach. The job was filled as many football managerial posts are here, with a preferred candidate, Steve Mariucci, and nobody else interviewed.
The rule is credited with producing an increase in the number of black coaches hired in the NFL. The Pittsburgh Steelers appointed Mike Tomlin as their head coach in January 2007. Two years later he became the youngest head coach to win the Super Bowl.
The PFA chairman, Gordon Taylor, and the FA chairman, David Bernstein, met the NFL commissioner, Roger Goodell, to discuss the rule in October. So far, however, clubs have not agreed for any rule to encourage more black coaches to be introduced