James Lawton: Eriksson more eloquent than tokenism

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The Independent Online

Sven Goran Eriksson spoke with great feeling and delicacy when he described the emotions provoked by the visit he made with his players to Auschwitz a few months ago.

Sven Goran Eriksson spoke with great feeling and delicacy when he described the emotions provoked by the visit he made with his players to Auschwitz a few months ago.

"We will never forget it," said Eriksson in a simple, moving address clearly appreciated by those survivors and their relatives who were joined by the Queen at a memorial service in London.

Auschwitz has been visited by many footballers. It is just a few miles from Katowice, the fierce stronghold of the Polish game whose most popular club, Gornik, have long been involved in European competition. Their ground is the favourite of the Polish FA when a passionate crowd is required.

It was a cold, grey day when I happened to go along to Auschwitz with another England team and of all the imperishable memories not the least of them is the impact the place had on those young, carefree professional sportsmen. The usual quips and frivolity were absent.

This week, when Eriksson spoke of the meaning of Auschwitz, he also picked up the cause of anti-racism in football. He did it eloquently and in a much more meaningful way than anything said in the manu factured furore over the FA's withdrawn Pride of the Nation video, which happened not to contain one black player in the featured 20 best England internationals over the last 40 years.

What was the cry? For "tokenism," for elevating a player beyond his achievements simply because of the colour of his skin? Some superb non-black players were omitted from the FA's misbegotten video - including six of the men who won England's only World Cup. Did Rio Ferdinand or John Barnes, fine players no doubt, have greater claims than Gordon Banks, George Cohen, Ray Wilson, Jack Charlton, Nobby Stiles and Roger Hunt? Or Jimmy Greaves and Johnny Haynes, who did not make the World Cup final team but would be in most authoritative lists of the nation's 10 best players of all time?

Black players like Ashley Cole, Sol Campbell, Rio Ferdinand are cornerstones of English football now. Jermain Defoe and Shaun Wright-Phillips, who was so abused in Madrid recently, are surely part of the future. This is a reality which will be celebrated soon enough when the history of the game is recorded at some later date. Meanwhile, let us fight real battles over real issues.

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