The Reading striker Jason Roberts has tonight claimed that the Professional Footballers’ Association chairman, Clarke Carlisle, has heaped further abuse on victims of racial discrimination by describing Rio and Anton Ferdinand as “shithouses” in his autobiography – language which Roberts considers “disgusting” and inappropriate for a players’ union leader.
Carlisle made the outspoken attack on his fellow professionals in response to the boycott of the Kick it Out anti-racism T-shirt campaign, led by Roberts last October amid deep frustration among black players about the organisation’s low profile after the racial abuse of Patrice Evra and Anton Ferdinand. Carlisle has now characterised those involved as cowards who, he wrote, “would happily throw in a grenade, but do nothing when it explodes, nothing other than appear to hide behind their advisers. That’s because they are sh*thouses”.
But Roberts staunchly defended the action the players took, stating that Carlisle and the PFA were made acutely aware last year of the concerns of around 30 black players. He said Carlisle has “misrepresented” the concerns of those players, who have made detailed proposals for change in a document – entitled The Way Forward – which was distributed to the PFA and other governing bodies last year.
“Clarke’s comments have totally misrepresented and trivialised what was a highly sensitive and emotive issue in the football industry, and players like Anton now find themselves being subjected to abusive language, when they have been on the receiving end of abuse and victimisation,” Roberts told The Independent on Sunday. “It is also the language that concerns me. For the PFA chairman to call players ‘sh*thouses’ is wholly inappropriate. It’s disgusting. Clarke was fully aware of the issue and the reasons why we staged the protest. We raised our concerns long before the decision not to wear the T-shirts was taken by many players, both black and white. Kick it Out’s silence was a huge worry and frustration.”
The Ferdinand brothers, Rio and Anton, issued a statement at the time of the T-shirt protest saying that “times change, organisations need to change with them” and they wanted “privately” to help make Kick It Out “more relevant in its fight to stamp out racism in football”.
The PFA have since published a six-point plan to deal with the issues raised. The players’ union has since added four staff to its equality unit, which was previously staffed by only one officer. A players’ advisory board has also been established at Kick it Out and a new PFA course teaching corporate governance to players with the aim of securing more places for ethnic minorities and women on the boards of clubs and governing bodies.
Roberts, a member of the PFA’s management committee for the past three years who has led the campaign for greater appreciation of the issue of race in football, added: “We have been characterised as beating up on a small charity which has very little money or resource. That is a total misrepresentation. We had our concerns about Kick it Out and we were fighting for its soul and its independence. Perhaps that fight for independence has not been won but we have never given up on it.”
Carlisle could not be reached tonight, though since the publication of the comments in his autobiography, You Don’t Know Me, But... A Footballer’s Life, Carlisle has said that his comments only reflected his feelings at the time of the boycott. He has said that having since talked with the players in question he understands their position. “The danger of serialisation of the book was that they are my personal opinions at that moment in time,” he said last week.