Another weekend of sport has ended in an ugly mess, as professional football continues in its quest to prove that the twenty first century is something which only happened to other people. After having two players sent off in the game against Manchester United, Chelsea have lodged a complaint against the referee Mark Clattenburg, accusing him of using racist language against one of their players.
This is a very serious allegation and, as with all accusations of racism, it must be treated as such. Clattenburg, who was in constant radio contact with the other officials during the game, has indicated that he wishes a full investigation into the matter, and has the support of the referees union in doing so.
This can only end in one of two ways. If he is found guilty, then Clattenburg will rightly never work as a referee again. His position of impartial authority would have been irretrievably compromised. Alternatively, if the allegation is discovered to be malicious, then Chelsea FC will have wrought terrible damage on the professional game.
Perhaps it would be more accurate to say ‘Chelsea FC will have wrought even more terrible damage’. After all their captain, John Terry, was watching these events from the stand, where he was sitting out his ludicrously lenient four match ban for describing Anton Ferdinand as a “fucking black cunt”. Keenly aware of this injustice, Chelsea fans helpfully jeered Ferdinand’s brother Rio throughout yesterdays match, presumably expressing their displeasure that his relative could dare point out that their captain was a bigot.
The football authorities have impressed nobody with their peerless indifference to racism in the game. Their ‘Kick It Out’ campaign, which is supposed to address the issue, has been reduced to little more than a series of platitudes on T-shirts. They mean so much that John Terry is happy to support them. Tellingly, the Ferdinand brothers were less willing.
This stuff matters. Those who say that problems in football only reflect problems in society should get out more. Society has changed. We don’t go to minstrel shows anymore. Adult comedians who trade in offence and shock are willing to go to court to prove that they are not racists. We in society decided that racism damaged us all some time ago, and furthermore decided to act on our decision. It seems football didn’t get the memo.
Those who run football should have a think about how precarious their position actually is. The average age of a fan in their stadiums is 43, because clubs have priced the younger fans out. The future of professional football as a mass spectator sport, and all the lucrative opportunities those spectators represent, is dependent on young people falling in love with the game as they see it on TV. That’s not going to happen if it looks like a re-run of a 1970’s Bernard Manning comedy routine. Kids today, to their great credit, just aren’t into that stuff. Football needs to catch up, fast.