Crystal Palace chairman Simon Jordan continues his Mark Cuban-esque series of editorials challenging the football establishment in today’s Observer.
Angel Maria Villar Llona’s crowd-silencing speech to Uefa’s anti-racism conference wasn’t hard to see coming. Llona’s day job is head of Spain’s La Liga, home of the fastest-growing racism problem in European football. His simple message to delegates? Racism’s no big thing, he said: ‘Why blow it all up, why make a mountain out of a molehill?’
The issues here – the cause and effect – aren’t hard to spot. What was more shocking was Uefa’s response to Llona’s attitude. Challenged by this paper, communications director William Gaillard first refused to condemn Llona, then revealed he’d helped with the speech, and added this for effect: ‘I wouldn’t say Spain is more racist than England.
Feel like we’ve been here before? European football is mired in stunningly extreme racism, unimaginable here – Italians hanging swastikas in Rome’s Olympic stadium – yet Uefa again use England as an easy diversion, as they did post-Heysel when everything was blamed on ‘the English disease’. Let’s be clear: Gaillard has openly slandered our game in a way that undermines the successes of the last 30 years and sends out a totally inaccurate message to non-white communities in this country. So far, the FA’s response has been silence.
Our approach has to change. We can’t afford to be shy about England’s record on racism, nervous that bigging ourselves up equals Llona-style complacency. Racism hasn’t gone from our game, but in the past five years incidents have fallen away and I’ve heard nothing racist first-hand. Palace, like many clubs, are in a multiracial area with a multiracial fanbase and staff. If I thought we had a problem, I’d be all over it.
The rare crowd incidents we have had in my time have never been about anything worse than over-stimulated morons.
Without disputing Jordan’s citation of ugly scenes on the continent, if he’s really heard nothing racist in 5 years of Palace matches, home and away, he either needs to change his seats, attend some matches in another division or just get his ears checked.
While it wouldn’t make as compelling a TV picture as large swastikas displayed in Rome, I’ve witnessed numerous instances of players or fans being on the receiving end of racist abuse at grounds big and small (mostly small). I’d like to think everything was magically fixed when I left London in September of 2004, but my last visit to QPR was highlighted by what appeared to be a 5 man footrace ; black dude in the lead, 4 large, cursing white guys in hot pursuit.
In the past month, we’ve seen Bryant Gumbel (!) interview a BNP representative who claimed that football matches were a terrific place to find new recruits. I’ve never seen anyone handing out leaflets (not of that type anyway), but it seems a shame that Jordan couldn’t have been interviewed. He could’ve told Gumbel the same thing he tells Observer readers ; “the charges of an underlying, institutional racism still being made against those who run England’s top clubs” are unfounded because “I’ve never had an application from a black manager” and “the top-level candidates just aren’t there.”
(There’s no truth to the rumor, by the way, that Al Campanis has taken a job at Palace.)
Conversely, Jordan is remarkably sensible when it comes to portions of the press calling for an English successor to Sven-Goran Erickson.
This latest campaign for an ‘English’ England manager is more obviously stupid than anything that’s gone before. But they’ve bought it: we’re seeing grown adults arguing about how ‘English’ Martin O’Neill is; highly paid executives following this British Bulldog bullshit that a patriotic ‘English’ coach will somehow be genetically more loyal, more dedicated, less randy and less likely to listen to job offers from Chelsea.
The checklist should be obvious: leadership, credibility, confidence, experience of winning as a manager at the top level and experience of managing the biggest egos and the biggest expectations. None of the leaked ‘English’ names tick more than half those boxes. Alan Curbishley and Sam Allardyce have done fantastic jobs for their clubs, but experience of the top, of coping with expectation? And yes, Martin O’Neill’s won the Scottish title with Celtic, but then so could I.