At least Atkinson's social life is OK

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The Independent Football

Ron Atkinson just doesn't get it. He seems to think he can come back after eight months off-screen and everyone will behave as though nothing happened.

Ron Atkinson just doesn't get it. He seems to think he can come back after eight months off-screen and everyone will behave as though nothing happened.

His first appearance since his remarks about Marcel Desailly came thanks to one of the black footballers who stood up for him, on John Barnes' Football Night (Five, Thursday). Barnes kicked off by asking how, given the welter of racist incidents, things had changed in the game since Atkinson talked himself out of a job.

"As far as I'm concerned things have changed immensely," he replied, which wasn't what Barnes was getting at. "That's why it's so good to be here tonight because I'm going to be talking about football."

And attempting to justify himself. Barnes asked him what he felt about being labelled a racist. "What I said was a complete aberration," he said. "I'd rather put my record up - as you well know, John, I've helped more black players, until the influx of foreign managers, than probably any other manager." Which, for all his work with "The Three Degrees" a quarter of a century ago, is questionable at best.

Barnes asked him what he'd been doing for the last eight months, and about the documentary he's been making. "You went to the deep south?" Barnes asked. "Oh yeah," he said dismissively. "Did all that, went to Alabama, looked at various things - but a little bit deep to be getting into on programmes like this."

At this point Barnes should have dived in with a "Nevertheless, Ron..." Instead, he allowed him to continue. "I find that my social life's been pretty good, really," he said. I am glad about that. When Barnes asked him, "How do you feel we can eradicate the problem [of racism]?" his reply was worrying.

"Well, that's up to the legal people," he said. "I mean, all right, they've taken action against the kids up in Blackburn that Dwight Yorke got involved with. But you know as well as I do, in football clubs themselves it doesn't really go on, does it? The black boys, or ethnic boys, or whatever we're going to call them, I think they have equal opportunities." Whatever we're going to call them, Ron.

Barnes, I think, let him off lightly overall, though he was just being kind. Maybe I'm being kind, but I like his style. Talking about Celtic going out of Europe before Christmas, he said, "I can't remember the last time that happened." He leaned back and smiled. "Probably when I was manager."

Big Ron cracked up, and now he's back he'll doubtless be cracking the rest of us up on a regular basis before long. I'm all for rehabilitation. But nobody will ever really forget that thing he said when he thought the mike was switched off.

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