For a long time during the 1980s English football tried to make light of the abuse of black players by a moronic minority of spectators. After one 1984 cup tie between Portsmouth and Southampton, marred by the throwing of both coins and bananas at Southampton player Reuben Agboola, his manager, Lawrie McMenemy, said after the game: “We’ve got a good result; £4.50 in small change and 2lb of bananas.”
Ultimately, it became clear that humouring the morons did not make them go away. The problems were tackled properly by the Football League and by clubs with bans threatened and imposed.
A change of attitude followed and such abuse has now almost completely been eradicated from English grounds. But it required a commitment to take the problem seriously – something still to happen in Spain, on the evidence of Sunday’s episode at Villarreal, where Barcelona’s Dani Alves picked the banana up and ate it. He joked: “The potassium did me good. It gave me the energy to send over two more crosses and we scored from one of them.”
He had beaten the idiots on the night because Barcelona won the game, coming from two goals down to win 3-2. But they will keep coming back until the Spanish FA does more than pay lip service – its president Angel Villar said last night that Spanish football was “against racism”, but there was no advance in what it might do to buck the ugly trend.
Thankfully Villarreal did act with greater urgency identifying the culprit thanks largely to the co-operation of the supporters seated around him. His club membership card has been taken from him and it’s likely he will be given a lengthy stadium ban.
It is understood the referee David Fernandez included the incident in his match report. This was more than the match official for the Spanish Cup final managed, despite racist chants aimed at Alves, Neymar and Real Madrid’s Pepe in that game. When the chanting was mentioned in radio commentary, one pundit dismissed it as “just four idiots” and the incident was soon forgotten.
There is no centrally organised campaign to stamp out racism in Spanish football and yesterday Alves’ greatest support came from a Twitter campaign under the hashtag banner #somostodosmacacos, which translates as “we are all monkeys”. Neymar and Sergio Aguero were among stars tweeting photographs of themselves eating bananas.
The show of solidarity might jar with English sensitivities but it at least ridiculed the perpetrator of the crime against Alves. “We won’t change the situation, I’ve had the same thing for 11 years in Spain, you have to just laugh at these idiots,” he said.
Samuel Eto’o tried to walk off when he was racially abused while playing in Spain in a game against Zaragoza. Each player has his own way of dealing with the situation but it is about time it was not down to the player to respond – it’s about time those who run the Spanish game took the lead with real measures that will actually make a difference. And if they can’t, Fifa should do it for them.