A non-partisan journal of the left.

Ain’t football grand?

Wed 2nd Jan 2013

For most of us an annual salary of £70,000 would be the stuff of dreams but for some young adults an offer of that nature would be considered a gross insult. Even £70,000 per month would be out of the question; damn it, £70,000 PER WEEK is not enough! That certainly appears to be the view of Arsenal’s Theo Walcott, who has been subsisting on this miserable wage for too long and will not sign a new contract unless “something is sorted out” which translates as “until you offer me over £100 grand a week and only then if another richer team fails to top that offer.” A very talented player, to be sure, Walcott’s tax affairs came under scrutiny last year, when it was revealed that in order to eke out his meagre income he was one of several top footballers employing crafty accounting techniques in order to make sure as little as possible of his salary went to paying for services for plebs, such as those Arsenal fans who tip up a considerable proportion of THEIR income to watch him perform.

Perhaps Walcott feels hard done by as a result of reading about Newcastle United’s Demba Ba, whose contract allows him to leave in January but who is only likely to go, according to the daily papers, to a club who will match the £80 grand a week that the Toon are currently paying him. Whether he stays or leaves in the transfer window it seems unlikely that in the near future Ba will need the services of Wonga, the loan company famous for its 4000% APR interest rate and Newcastle United’s shirt sponsor next season.

Lower down the League, Steve Evans, a convicted tax evader, left Crawley Town this year to manage Rotherham United, whose board were apparently unconcerned that their new team boss had been accused of showing his genitals to a woman steward following Crawley’s match against Bradford City. The FA subsequently banned Evans, for what was termed “insulting behaviour”, from entering Rotherham’s ground for six matches. Rotherham were unperturbed, though, and Evans was allowed to manage the team via phone contact with his assistant throughout his suspension. He is now back in the dugout, but given Rotherham’s recent record of sacking any manager who fails to turn the chairman’s largesse into promotion it is probably unlikely that he will make it to the end of the season. Insulting behaviour towards women is one thing; not winning enough games quite another.

While Evans still currently warms his seat at Rotherham, other managers are nursing the stab wounds in their backs. Steve Cotterill was probably left wondering what he had done wrong in the close season when he was sacked by Nottingham Forest’s new owners and replaced by Sean O’Driscoll, who had himself replaced Steve Evans at Crawley only a few weeks previously. Last week O’Driscoll, who seemed to all to have done a decent job and was celebrating Forest’s win against Leeds, turned up the next day only to find that he too had been fired and that Alex McLeish was waiting in the wardrobe to replace him. Down at Watford a similar fate befell Sean Dyche. No sooner had the club been bought by its new owners than Gianfranco Zola had pinched his chair and Dyche was out of his job. Time for managers to organise a proper Union, maybe, and to resist the temptation to climb into the graves of others before the corpse is cold, or even before it is dead as appeared to be the case in the examples above.

Racism has certainly been in the news this season. Serbian “fans” and “players” hardly covered themselves in glory during their under 21 international against England and were rewarded with a fine so derisory that UEFA is now appealing against its own decision. Not that the English FA is squeaky clean, of course. There may be the odd eccentric who believes that Roy Hodgson’s decision to pick John Terry for the European Championship tournament but to leave Rio Ferdinand out had nothing to do with the feud caused by Terry’s calling Anton Ferdinand a “f***ing black c***” but, frankly, it is hard for the rest of us not to conclude that the FA deliberately turned a blind eye to Terry’s racism until after the competition was over in order to be able to pick their best defender, while dropping Rio Ferdinand in order to avoid playing a defensive partnership who were not on speaking terms with each other.

Terry’s four match ban for racially abusing Anton Ferdinand looks especially lenient alongside the eight match suspensions dished out to Liverpool’s Luis Suarez and Aldershot Town’s Danny Hylton for similar offences. Neither Chelsea nor Liverpool came out of these incidents well since both continued to select the perpetrators and to insist that they were innocent right up to the date that their bans were imposed. Likewise Aldershot, who insisted to the end that Hylton was “the last person anyone could accuse of being racist”, apart, that is, from the Barnet players who DID accuse him and whose testimony was accepted by the FA’s disciplinary committee.

Off the field, racist behaviour by fans is becoming news again and other supporters are advised, if they should hear any such abuse, to report the matter to a steward.

At Bradford City, for example, supporters are warned before the game begins that anyone found to have shouted a racist insult will be banned for life from the ground. Would that all teams followed City’s example. In 2011 two drunken Chesterfield followers were arrested at Torquay United’s ground for vile abuse of one of Torquay’s young black players before the beginning of the game. Both were subsequently fined in the magistrate’s court and banned from attending matches for three years but there was no suggestion from Chesterfield FC that the pair would face any further sanction. In October this year, I attended a Chesterfield game at which a group of men in the seats behind kept up a non-stop verbal barrage for the first hour of the game, which subsequently became racist in nature and was aimed at a couple of Chesterfield’s own black players. Taking the advice given to fans, I drew the fact to the attention of the stewards, who failed to eject the perpetrator and left him free to continue. It was only when he physically attacked me from behind that he was shown the door but there was no suggestion that he would not be welcomed back at the next match. Meanwhile, it was made clear by all around me that it was I, rather than the racist and his foul-mouthed chums, who was to blame for interrupting their entertainment. As a consequence, my message to fans who encounter such behaviour is that you can report it if you like, but don’t expect anyone to thank you for it. If you would prefer not to have your Saturday afternoon unsullied, best go to the pictures or for a walk in the countryside instead.

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