Atkinson says his racist gaffe will cost him more than £1m

Ron Atkinson's notorious remarks about a black Chelsea footballer have cost him as much as £1m in cancelled contracts and lost sponsorship deals, he admitted last night.

Ron Atkinson's notorious remarks about a black Chelsea footballer have cost him as much as £1m in cancelled contracts and lost sponsorship deals, he admitted last night.

The flamboyant TV pundit was widely condemned last week after characterising Marcel Desailly as a "lazy fucking thick nigger" following a poor performance in the Champions' League.

Although intended as private, his microphone was on and the remarks were broadcast in the Middle East.

They have cost him dear. "Big Ron", a senior match summariser has lost his regular slot with ITV, said to be worth between £150,000 and £200,000 a year, and a column with The Guardian. He has also been dropped by soft drinks brand Britvic which was using him to front a competition in search of football's biggest gaffes.

An apologetic Atkinson, said, "I've offended nobody more than me at the moment. Christ almighty, it's cost me roughly a million quid."

A former top manager whose clubs included Manchester United, he traded heavily on his avuncular image and the mean-spirited remarks are particularly damaging.

Speaking to The Observer, he denied that he was a racist but accepted that he was "an idiot" for making comments. He still claims he cannot remember saying them.

"I've got to the end of the game and I am so angry. There's a commercial break from what I can remember and I'm just talking to myself. And to be fair I've been critical of several of the players. Then I've come out with this infamous line which to this day I don't remember saying. I didn't know anything about it till the next day.

"I've never, to my knowledge, used the word nigger before. But I can understand how much offence I have caused. If someone had said that about one of my players I'd have chinned him."

As the manager of West Bromwich Albion in the late 70s he was an early champion of black players, and plenty of people have been willing to back his record.

Gerard Houllier, Sir Alex Ferguson, Sir Bobby Robson and Terry Venables have all rung to offer their support, he said. He also had a call from John Barnes, the former England international and himself a black player. "Barnsey said, 'Ron, you're not a racist, 'cause if I wanted a job and you were in a position to give it to me, you'd give it to me. People who are racists are the ones who look at you and go, "You're not getting the job". You've always proved who you are with your actions.'"

A former colleague, Carlton Palmer, has also come to his defence. "I'm black and I'm gonna stand up for Big Ron not because he's a friend of mine, I'm standing up for him because I know what he's like as a bloke," he said.

"If we're going to deal with racism then let's deal with the bigger picture of racism not about a throwaway comment that wasn't meant in that manner."

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