Book of the week: Blowing the whistle on the new-age racists

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The Independent Online
Pitch Invaders: The Modern Black Football Revolution By Stella Orakwue (Gollancz, paperback, pounds 9.99)

THIS BOOK does not attempt to chart the historical progress of Britain's black footballers, so much as offer a sociological interpretation of the daily problems they encounter from "New Racists".

The tired stereotypes, all too obvious to blacks, are graphically outlined, "I got the feeling that if Andrew [Cole] hadn't made it at football, he would have been a pimp," was the comment of one of his former teachers.

Pitch Invaders illuminates the underlying feeling of discrimination felt by black footballers. After suffering years of abuse, blacks are still encouraged not to make a fuss. Many sympathised with Eric Cantona's violent reaction to racial abuse, but it took the actions of a white Frenchman to expose a familiar scenario. "The only important legacy of Cantona's kick is that white people now know that a white man would not tolerate racial abuse of the kind that blacks `put up with'."

Stella Orakwue offers compelling evidence for the existence of institutionalised racism and the fact that black footballers can expect inexplicably contrasting treatment from the Football Association and media when they stray from the straight and narrow (she contrasts Paul Merson with Chris Armstrong).

Despite the official "Let's Kick Racism out of Football Campaign" the authorities fudge the problem, despite, for example, decades of racism at Millwall. "In the era of New Racists... there will be a lot of hot air and pious statements but no actions and no results,... courtesy of officialdom, it is the same as that faced by black players in the Seventies and Eighties. Nothing happens."

However, the complexity of the problem is evident when Orakwue attempts, and ultimately fails, to attribute too many occurrences to racism.

She suggests that Terry Venables' reluctance to pick Andy Cole and Les Ferdinand for England reveals deeper motives, but in the next chapter describes how Venables went out on a limb to select John Barnes.

In another section Frank Clark is quoted, "Their [Stan Collymore's and Brian Roy's] performances were unacceptable to the other players and the fans. I had nine players battling and trying to turn the game around. Two others were just waiting for things to happen."

The quote was intended to illustrate the "lazy" tag that unfairly accompanies some black players, but she fails to mention that two of the nine who Clark praised (Des Little and the second-half substitute Jason Lee) were black.

The chapter devoted to exploring inter-racial relationships also makes an excellent, if not strictly relevant, point. Disappointingly, it descends into reverse discrimination when describing Barnes' wife as a "football blonde" with an "immaculate, if not to everybody's taste, image" before detailing Ian Wright's black wife - "her kind, comforting face is a delight" - in glowing terms.

Unlike its title, the book does not concern itself exclusively with matters on the pitch but it is refreshingly uncompromising and firmly points the way for a wider debate.