Living in the past- The Harsh Reality of 21st Century Football

It’s 1990 and it’s the World Cup. Terry Butcher looks like he belongs on the set of a horror movie and Paul Gascoigne is sobbing like a teenage girl after watching ‘Marley & Me’. It is personal, meaningful football. Jump forward twenty years and you find professional footballers boycotting their team at the biggest stage, causing national embarrassment.

What the game of football had become is nothing short of a drama series – every Saturday players competing in what can only be described as sporting theatre, diving and writhing on the floor like amateur actors. Modern day football has lost the feeling, emotion and spirit that it had twenty years ago. Players have now turned to even racially abusing those of the same nationality rather than settling their matters on the pitch.

Racism has made an unwelcome return to top-flight football and has dominated the news. English football has been marred by racist exchanges between respected players, causing major concern across the country. But why has it returned? At the time of writing, John Terry, who is being investigated over the use of racist comments towards a black player, has not been found guilty, but the actions of himself and others have cast a dark shadow over English football at the present time. But after a few years of what was deemed as responsible behaviour by footballers, why has racism arrived back to haunt the game of


To try and find out just why this has happened, I talked to FURD. ‘Football Unites, Racism Divides’ is a charity, based in England, who are dedicated to working “locally, nationally and internationally to combat racism and increase understanding between different communities.”  The charity was set up in 1995 by a group of like-minded Sheffield United whose aim was to rid their local footballing community of racism. From then on, the charity has worked endlessly to try and rid the game of football of racism, working to provide workshops, local tournaments, special schemes and projects to try and combat the growing problem.

When I asked why they thought racism had returned, they provided an interesting point,

It never entirely went away – there has always been a small number of incidents by players, officials or fans at all levels of the game, probably more at lower levels. It is difficult to generalise from the most high profile recent incidents – those involving John Terry, Luis Suarez and Sepp Blatter –but what is clear, though, is that if such high profile figures engage in such conduct, it quickly becomes seen by some as making it acceptable. Examples of this are the abuse aimed at Oldham’s Tom Adeyemi by a Liverpool fan and similarly the amount of hate mail and an airgun pellet sent to Anton Ferdinand after the charge against Terry.”

What now needs to happen is that FIFA must look at what procedures are in place, and are they working? The current anti-racism programmes have been put into question in light of the recent goings-on, and I asked what FURD thought of the matter,


“This is a difficult question at the moment – a lot of work has and is going on and we’ve made great progress. However, we are living in a society which has some tensions, not helped by factors largely beyond our control. There are still racist attacks and incidents every week that usually receive less publicity than in football.”

The important question now is what can be done to try and get rid of racism in football. To a degree, the rest of the sporting world has moved on, the World Cup in South Africa a true testament to this, so why English football should be plunged back into ‘dark times’ does not seem right. FURD said,

“I think it has to be a combination of tough sanctions and education at all levels from football managers, officials, pro and amateur players to fans and young people, and those at the top of the game need to be aware of their power as role models to influence others’ behaviour.”


The fact that racism is being used to vent anger and frustration towards opponents is telling of the mould that footballers have now adopted. Unlike the Butcher’s and Gascoigne’s of the 1990’s, too many modern day players have adopted the role of the ‘star player’, and with that comes cockiness and belligerence. Too easily have players started to use words rather than their actions to prove a point. The reality is that charities like FURD are needed more now than ever before, and the work that they do at grassroots football is key in implementing a fair and safe future for football. If racism can be attacked at the source, then it could spell out a positive future for the game of football.

Conor Patton @Conor_Patton

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