Some clubs still say there is not a problem of racism in football. Some say it is only a minor issue. The authorities pay lip-service to demands for action but, in reality, turn a blind eye to the issue of racism. Now the Millwall chairman, Reg Burr, is reported as saying that the moronic fans' reaction to the black players from Derby County was not racist but would have happened if they were white.
Football hooliganism and thuggery is a lot less frequent now, but it is still around. It happened at the Cup final last Saturday and violence was associated with other matches in the end-of-season play- offs; one person was beaten into unconsciousness by Burnley supporters stopping off in Torquay on their way to Plymouth.
Happily, this complacency rooted in the notion of do- nothing-and-it-will-go-away is not prevalent. A number of the top clubs have been active in the campaign 'Kick racism out of football', sponsored by the Commission for Racial Equality, the Professional Footballers' Association and the Football Trust. The campaign was launched at the beginning of the 1993-94 season and enjoys the support of 91 of the 92 professional clubs.
Millwall has an excellent record of community involvement and, overall, more people are now prepared to challenge racial abuse and oppressive behaviour at grounds because clubs are committing themselves to taking decisive action. That has been good. But it needs to be sustained.
As someone who has been in love with the game for as long as I can remember, few things are more hurtful than to go to a game and have to sit listening to ritual racist chanting or perpetual verbal racist abuse. Few things gave me more joy this spring than to get a letter from an Asian supporter who, after years away because of racist abuse, had gone back to a game at Derby and found a welcoming atmosphere. His comment to the club was simple: Thank you.
When will everyone in the game realise that there are many, many fans out there eager to share the same experience? Yes, what happened at Millwall was a disaster. But it is not one that implies we should give up our efforts. Quite the contrary: it only confirms how important our work has been and the need to quadruple our efforts involving supporters and the local communities.
The CRE/PFA campaign has put the debate into the heart of discussion about the game. We have pulled it out from under the boardroom carpets. We have let those in the directors' boxes, often insulated from the raucous abuse from some of their fans, know that they cannot escape responsibility for what is going on.
Some clubs - among them Derby and Millwall - are doing good work in this area. 'Rams Against Racism' is being pushed out from the ground itself into schools throughout Derbyshire. They have had one day of action at the ground, and they are planning to join in a national week of action which we are working with others to get off the ground at the start of the new season. Most importantly, they have also taken on board the need to ensure that young Asian football talent is nurtured as well as that of white and black kids.
And Millwall? They have pioneered work through their 'Football in the Community' scheme in which work against racism has a high profile. The next season will see their 'Lions say No to Racism' campaign. The Millwall chairman, directors, players and decent- minded suporters must say loudly and often: 'We do not want racists at Millwall.' Thc club must root them out and keep them out.
We want action by all involved in the game to make it a welcoming, happy and enthusiastic experience for all. We have made some progress in that direction. We need much more. Which is why there is a continuing campaign which draws in the widest possible range of people and institutions.
What happened at Millwall does not mean that we and the others working for a better game have failed. It just emphasises the the need for everyone to get involved and not to ease up until racism is kicked out of football forever.
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