A brief look at the decision by over 30 players not to wear the 'Kick it Out Campaign' T-shirt, and the response of the football establishment elite.
In the run up to this weekend’s premier league fixtures the sports pages were filled with stories regarding the black footballer Jason Roberts, and his decision to not wear a ‘Kick it Out Campaign’ shirt, prior to his teams match. Roberts said that:
"I find it hard to wear a T-shirt after what has happened in the last year. I won't wear one. I'm totally committed to kicking racism out of football but when there's a movement I feel represents the issue in the way that speaks for me and my colleagues, then I will happily support it. I think people feel let down by what used to be called 'Let's Kick Racism Out of Football'. People don't feel like they have been strong enough."
He came in for lots of criticism, in particular from Alex Ferguson, who had this to say:
“I have to disagree with Jason Roberts. I think he is making the wrong point. Everyone should be united, with all the players in the country wearing the Kick It Out warm-up tops. I don't know what point he is trying to make. I don't know if he is trying to put himself on a different pedestal from everyone. But he really should be supporting all the rest of the players who are doing it. When you do something, and everyone believes in it, you should all do it together. There shouldn't be sheep wandering off. I think he is making the wrong message. All the players are wearing it. I have only heard that Jason Roberts is different – but he is very different. He plays a game and is in the studio 20 minutes after it. That is a great privilege."
Like everyone else I am aware of the high profile cases recently in which significantly differing punishments were given out to two different players, one of whom managed to get both his legal matters, and FA disciplinary deferred until after the European championships, to enable him to play for the national team. I hope that doesn’t sound too much like a conspiracy theory, but it is certainly how it appeared to me.
Ferguson, the media, and associated hangers-on, claim that the ‘Kick it Out Campaign’ are not to blame for the issues that Roberts raised. Not directly maybe. However, a brief internet trawl shows that the campaign is supported and funded by – the Football Association (FA), the Premier League, and the players union – the Professional Footballers Association (PFA).
So who exactly is responsible then? As it seems that all the key bodies in professional football (who are directly responsible) fund the Kick it Out Campaign as some kind of front group. The campaign is part of a UEFA (European wide) network of similar groups. It seems to me that the campaign is just a token, tick box exercise to give the illusion that changes are being made, and action being taken.
For the campaign to remain credible, all the players have to fall in line and wear the shirts, whether they agree with a token gesture or not.
Jason Roberts was being singled out as the ONLY player who would not be wearing the campaign shirt (although Joleon Lescott has refused since 2007).
However, to my surprise and delight, over thirty players refused to wear the Kick it Out Campaign shirt on Saturday:
Everton – Victor Anichebe, Sylvain Distin, Steven Pienaar.
QPR – Anton Ferdinand, Djbril Cisse, Shaun Wright-Phillips, Nedum Onouha, Junior Hoilett.
Manchester City – Michah Richards, Joleon Lescott
Manchester United – Rio Ferdinand
Reading – Jason Roberts
Stoke – Kenwyne Jones
Swansea – the entire team
Wigan – the entire team
Imagine the faces of the FA big-wigs after seeing such a response by the players. And also from Alex Ferguson, who manages a black player who had the audacity to go against his direct wishes to refuse to wear a shirt that gives the illusion that racism is being seriously tackled in football. This uppity black man will be “Dealt with” according to Ferguson.
Former players such as John Barnes are now wading in on the debate. He said that ‘Kick it Out’, have:
“No power to fine or ban people”
Quite right, however, the bodies that fund end ensure the very existence of the campaign do have those powers… So something is not right.
There was a prick on Sky Sports over the weekend, who basically suggested that as players are no longer having banana’s thrown at them (as was the case in his day) that they should “get over it”, and get behind the campaign.
Lord Ouseley, the chairman of the ‘Kick it Out Campaign’ said that he understood the player’s grievances, but that:
“Those grievances can only be addressed if we confront them, not by gestures of not wearing a T-shirt, but I understand why people don't do that”.
So not wearing a T-shirt is basically a token gesture? So what the fuck does this plum think actually wearing a T-shirt is?
I would have had no idea that the players would have been wearing the T-shirts this weekend if I had not known that Jason Roberts was refusing to wear one. So the refusal of Roberts and the other thirty players who refused to tow the establishment line has perhaps drawn more attention to the issues and to the campaign than would have otherwise been generated.
I for one fully support the players who refused to wear the shirt and doff their caps to the privileged handful who run football, and I hope that more follow.