Football: Return of the outside right

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NOW that most of us are sitting down on our Taylor Report-recommended, expensively bought, cheaply made plastic seats and doing as we are told, the idea that football will never again suffer from hooliganism and associated disgraces has crept up on us, encouraging complacency. Corruption among those who sit in higher places is the current preoccupying concern, but for most of us the really important question is whether we can watch a game in peace, without worrying about the colour of players' skins or having to hear incessant foul language.

Notes in programmes warning against bad language are taken about as seriously as those announcements by stewardesses telling us what to do in the 'unlikely event of landing on water'. By the time clubs got round to publishing such warnings it was already a generation too late. If the limited vocabularies of six-year-olds already include expletives there is nothing much that clubs can do to stop the same language being used at football grounds, where explicit remarks traditionally raise few eyebrows. But why are clubs so two-faced about it?

The warnings some of them have published about court action could be taken more seriously if they also applied to their own players. The Arsenal programme says the club will not tolerate foul language and racist abuse. Well, perhaps the management will stop tolerating the effing and blinding of the player who last weekend bawled so loudly that he could be heard from the back of the stands, for no greater reason than that one of his colleagues had failed to make himself available for a pass.

The hooligan problem has been brought back into the headlines by followers of Cardiff City. The club's chairman, Rick Wright, who could not have done more to keep the club alive in the past, now threatens it with closure if there is any more trouble. Whether such powerful chairmen are good for the game is another issue, but in this case he was right to say that neither Wales nor the club should be associated with hooligans who use a loose affinity to a club as an excuse for their behaviour. Unhappily, decent supporters also suffer when clubs take unsparing measures. No doubt Luton will never be forgiven for banning away supporters. But it worked.

As with hooliganism, racism recently seemed to have subsided. But it has now re-emerged strongly in Britain, while the televising of the Italian league has drawn attention to the fact that black players there suffer even more than the larger number who play in the British leagues. Some of the most audible abuse against black players comes in eastern European countries, and Scandinavia is no better. In Britain, though, the problem poses one obvious question. Since the proportion of black players is so high, why is there a problem at all?

Football spectators are predominantly white. The Commission for Racial Equality and the Professional Footballers' Association say they would like to see more black spectators. 'Experts' would probably put forward socio- economic reasons for their absence, yet it is apparent from athletics that the high proportion of successful black athletes competing for Britain has greatly increased the number of black spectators paying to watch them. The same is not true of football.

A quarter of all professional footballers in England are now black, and although there are no official figures I would be surprised if ethnic minority groups made up more than one per cent of the total spectators.

There is some truth in the idea that, having seen a revolution in black representation on the professional fields, black youths are more interested in playing than in spectating. But equally there is evidence that ethnic minorities feel unwelcome at matches, and that this has been encouraged by the far-right thugs congregating at grounds in increasing numbers.

This is disturbing. Football has enough problems of its own without having its stadia turned into recruiting centres for fascists.