Jingoism spoiled Euro 96 for blacks

Football and race: Afro-Caribbean fans backed other teams in Euro 96 first in protest at tide of xenophobia
Click to follow
The Independent Online
Some British blacks supported teams other than England in Euro 96 because they felt the torrent of nationalism verged on xenophobia, according to a survey by Britain's leading black newspaper published tomorrow.

More than half of the respondents in a poll by The Voice of Afro-Caribbean football supporters aged between 19 and 53 said they refused to back the two British teams in the international tournament. Some said they backed teams with the largest contingent of black players, such as Holland and France, but they preferred even Germany, which had no black players, to England.

One respondent felt so strongly that he hailed Gareth Southgate's crucial penalty miss as "the foot of God". Another complained that there were insufficient black players in the England side, saying: "Les Ferdinand should have been there. They only used Ince. That wasn't right. Regardless of the strategic validity, or not, [of Terry Venables's decision] it is the visual image that counts."

Herman Ousley, chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality and the Advisory Group Against Racism and Intimidation (AGARI), which tackles violence in football, insisted that the subject must be debated in a wider context. Why, he asked, did so many Scots, for example, celebrate the England defeat?

Mr Ousley believes some blacks turned their backs on the England side for fear of what would follow an England victory. "What was natural patriotism turns to nationalism and becomes tinged with xenophobia as part of the jingoism. A lot of people feel they have been at the sharp end of that sort of diatribe. What was most worrying for them is: 'Should England win this Euro 96 it will be neverending."

He added: "Blacks would undoubtedly identify with teams with more black players. It's very natural when they feel there isn't the same representation that they can empathise with within the national football side."

The survey again raises the question: "What does it mean to be British?" and recalls the infamous "cricket test" proposed by Lord Tebbit. In 1990 the former cabinet minister told the Los Angeles Times that "a large proportion of Asian immigrants would fail this test of British nationality." It was, he said, an "interesting test". "Are you still harking back to where you come from - or supporting where you are?" A nation is a nation "for what it shares in common", he said.

His views had not changed yesterday: "It could be applied to the English in Australia, the Spanish in America ... it doesn't matter. The question is: 'Are people integrated?' Do people wish to integrate into the society in which they live or do they wish to live in a ghetto.

Blacks should, he argued, follow the Jewish example. "The Jewish population has answered the question very clearly by working in the country they lived in and adapting its values. It integrates while maintaining its own identity. Others should look to the same idea."

The choice is simple, according to Lord Tebbit. "Do you deal with it [the "problem"] by integrating or by going into a ghetto. People have to make up their own minds. If you look at athletics one sees mainly ethnic teams and I fancy that most of the blacks who are in athletics for Britain are proud of carrying that flag. The fact that you don't find terribly many white runners in many events, that's one of those things isn't it? Presumably they've selected the best. For me there are two criteria: one, do you wish to integrate. Two, do you select on merit. I'm in favour of integration and merit.

"If you say it [integration] hasn't happened yet, I'd point out that it was a long time after central and eastern Europeans arrived here before they found themselves in government coping with sneering idiots saying there were more Estonians than Etonians in Margaret Thatcher's government."

Scotland was free to support whoever it liked, and it said nothing of a British identity crisis, he said. "In football there isn't a United Kingdom team. Who you support after your first country is up to you. I happen to have been born in Middlesex. That doesn't mean to say I wouldn't have a view on whether Yorkshire or Lancashire should win the county championship."

Ainsley Harriot, the black celebrity chef, felt there would have been room for a few more black faces "just to balance it". He suspects a "little bit" of discrimination in selection does occur adding that it is no accident that blacks are more successful in individual than team sports. "I know Ian Wright for instance, and I talk to him about it. He said there's a real bonding between the lads themselves but it's upstairs at the at chairmanship level where they are very protective about what they want their club to be. That generation thinks that way perhaps."

And did Ainsley support England when he went to Wembley for the semi-finals? "Of course. I've been born here. There's no denying it." But when it comes to cricket it's different. "I originate from Jamaica and I'm very proud of my roots. My cousin is the [former] West Indian wicket-keeper Jeffrey Dujon, so I always support the West Indies in cricket."

Comments