Spain must take prompt action or stain left by Bernabeu disgrace will remain

John Carlin, in Barcelona, believes that Aragones' aggressive nonsense was to blame for the Bernabeu's shame
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I was talking on the phone yesterday to a good friend of mine who is one of the leading football journalists in Spain. He did something very unusual for a football journalist on Wednesday night. It was his day off but he went anyway to the Bernabeu to watch the Spain-England game. As an ordinary fan. Why? Mainly because he is an admirer of the English game. He loves the tradition, the passion, the unconditional devotion of the fans.

I was talking on the phone yesterday to a good friend of mine who is one of the leading football journalists in Spain. He did something very unusual for a football journalist on Wednesday night. It was his day off but he went anyway to the Bernabeu to watch the Spain-England game. As an ordinary fan. Why? Mainly because he is an admirer of the English game. He loves the tradition, the passion, the unconditional devotion of the fans.

But my friend walked out 15 minutes before the final whistle. "I couldn't take it any more," he said. "What?" I replied, half joking. "Was the crappiness of the England team too much for you?" "No, that wasn't it," he said. "It was the racism all around me that I could not stand."

That was actually what I had called him to chat about in the first place. I was appalled, just like everyone in England seemed to be, especially when racist chants were directed at Shaun Wright-Phillips, who looked so callow, so unprepared for such abuse. I am not saying I didn't sympathise with Ashley Cole, but he is a tougher cookie, better able to cope with such imbecility. But when Wright-Phillips, who looks like a lad barely out of school uniform, was the butt of the Bernabeu monkey chorus it felt like bullying on a monumentally nasty scale.

I told my friend that not only did I feel shocked, I felt naïve. I've been living for six and a half years in Spain. I have written articles on immigrants from Africa and, all in all, I had formed the opinion that racism, while a blight on the human condition everywhere, was not a major Spanish affliction. Besides, there is nothing dimly resembling a racist political party in Spain, as there is in France, Italy, Austria and even - however small - in Britain.

Which is why seeing and hearing what happened at the Spain-England game made me reappraise everything; made me wonder at my insensitivity to a subject which, especially having spent six years as a correspondent for The Independent in South Africa, matters keenly to me.

How had I missed it? How, as someone to whom football matters as much as pretty much anything else, had I failed to detect the racism in the Spanish game?

My friend told me that if it was any comfort to me I should know that he, too, had failed to see it. "But that", he said, "is because I don't believe it has existed. You haven't seen it because it's not there. Racism is categorically not a problem in Spanish league football."

He spoke as someone who has watched at least one game a week live for 20 years. I have seen a lot less, but that, too, has been my experience. There are lots of black players in the Spanish First Division and I am not aware of any of them having received the monkey treatment before. I don't recall Thierry Henry or Ashley Cole complaining about the Deportivo fans (who used to adore their African goalkeeper Jacques Songo'o) when they went to play at La Coruña last season.

Four years ago I was at the Bernabeu to watch Real Madrid against Manchester United and Andy Cole and Dwight Yorke were not singled out for any more abuse than Roy Keane or David Beckham. Last season I saw Cameroon's Samuel Eto'o (now at Barcelona) tear Real Madrid to bits for Mallorca, also at the Bernabeu. The response of the crowd was one of admiration, as well as distress.

The question that had to be asked, then, was why now? Where did the abuse in Wednesday's international come from? The answer, I think, is that it has all to do with Luis Aragones. The spark that lit the fire was that remark of the Spanish coach's to Jose Reyes - not intended for the public - about his Arsenal team-mate Thierry Henry being "a black shit".

That was pretty poor, but I didn't react with anything like the outrage that I have towards Wednesday night's episode. Mainly because Aragones is a silly, insensitive, old blunderer, a child of the Franco era of whom such crassness is almost to be expected. Also because in Spanish culture people are less exercised than they are in Britain or America about the use, or misuse, of the word "black". Maybe they are less exercised about it in African culture, too. There was a famous line of Eto'o's, delivered with a big grin soon after he joined Barcelona in the summer. "I'm going to run like a black," he said, "so I can live like a white."

Still, had Aragones had an ounce of sense he would have apologised to Henry. Instead he dug himself into a deeper hole, going deepest of all when, in reply to some pretty predictable questions on the eve of Wednesday's game, he started spouting all kinds of aggressive, irrelevant nonsense about the racism of the British colonials in their day.

The rumpus that ensured persuaded a no less imbecilic section of the Spanish supporters at the Bernabeu that the way to really get under the skin of the English players was by out-Aragonesing Aragones. As my friend at the stadium saw it, first it was 10 fans, then 20, then 100 and towards the end of the second half it was 10 or 15 thousand making monkey noises. It was racist and, like all racism, it was basically ignorant and stupid. "People are so moronic, so unaware of what they're doing, that I swear for most of them doing what they did was as innocuous and amusing as doing the Mexican wave," my friend said.

All of which was reassuring up to a point. But then I reflected on the complete failure of the commentators broadcasting the game on Spain's equivalent of BBC1 to have uttered one word, one cheep, about the monkey taunts. And then I heard the people on the radio attributing all the fuss to the British tabloids. And then I saw the morning sports papers. Talk of burying the lead. I wrote a column yesterday for one of the big ones, AS, saying that for the Spanish media to have reported this as just an ordinary game was like going to the theatre where Lincoln was murdered and then writing about how marvellous the play had been.

It will be interesting to see what happens next. Unless the Spanish media and Spanish football shake themselves out of a stupidly blithe complacency, the stain will remain. Planet Football will identify Spain, in a way that it never has before, as one more of those nations where ugly racism not only prevails, but is somehow tolerated. Beyond fines and stadiums closures, what is needed is a significant public gesture of atonement. Like Raul asking forgiveness on behalf of Spanish football, or Aragones being hung, drawn and quartered - or, failing that, fired. Or, dumped in the dust-heap of history, where he obviously belongs.

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