The past few months have been difficult for anti-racist football fans in England. As one instance of racism has followed the other, I've been dropping my jaw and grinding my molars so much that my mouth is starting to ache. To try and ease this I thought I'd put down my thoughts on it all.
If, like me, you grew up watching football in the 90s and early 2000s you'd be forgiven for thinking that racism in English football was basically dead. I mean, obviously it still happened from time to time, but it was nowhere near as bad as in the past. I remember going with a friend of my mum's to see Fulham vs. Tottenham and the guy behind me shouting "Get up you foreign bastard!" at a Spurs player, only to get berated by everyone around him. He tried to explain himself but after that just sat in silence for the rest of the game.
However, little over a week apart in October 2011, the Premier League saw two high-profile players in the middle of rows over racism. First, Luis Suarez was accused (and later charged) with racially abusing Patrice Evra. This was followed with the row between John Terry and Anton Ferdinand at QPR's Loftus Road (in case you're interested, Loftus Road was the first football stadium I ever went to, back when Anton's cousin, Les, was playing for them).
With John Terry, this isn't the first time has been surrounded by rumours of racism. In 2006, he was alleged to have called Ledley King a "lippy black monkey". Moreover, Anton's brother, Rio, claimed in his autobiography that there is a racist in the England dressing room. With this, as well as talk of mutiny amongst unnamed England players, in mind Rio's words about the difficulty around the Terry/Ferdinand case seem to say a lot: "If something is going to affect him and hurt him, I am always there as a shoulder to lean on. In moments like this, when things are so public and you can’t really say anything, it can be frustrating."
As could be expected, from the off, Terry was supported by his manager, Andreas Villas-Boas, who said he would support Terry "even if he was found guilty". More recently, following Terry being stripped of the England captaincy by the FA, England manager Fabio Capello said that he "completely disagreed" with the decision.
Similarly, with the Suarez case, an argument was had between two players, during which one racially abused the other. This time the words themselves were never in question, just the context. It was decided that, even if in Uruguay 'negrito' is not always a racist slur, in the context of an argument it is.
However, the worst thing from the Suarez case, and the thing which arguably makes it worse than the Terry/Ferdinand one, has been the reactions from both the club and the fans.
Liverpool's reaction after the Suarez incident was to have the team come out onto the pitch wearing T-shirts with Suarez on the back and his picture on the front. In case the message wasn't clear enough, Kenny Dalglish spelled it out: "We stand right beside him. Always have done and always will do, and that was reflected in the support he got from the stands tonight and the players beforehand."
Yep, even if he racially abuses another player, we'll stand beside him.. coz he's our player.
This was already after Gus Poyet, Brighton manager and friend of Suarez, accused Evra of "crying like a baby" over racism. Over and over, it was repeated: racism isn't that big a deal, get over it.
Once it was taken up by the club, it was only matter of time before the fans joined in. After highlighting the issue on twitter, Stan Collymore was flooded with racist messages both directed at himself and Patrice Evra.
This was then followed by Liverpool fans hurling racial abuse at Oldham defender Tom Adeyemi. An arrest has since been made and Liverpool footbal club were commended for their co-operation but it has to be asked, did Kenny or any of the Liverpool players who took part in that stupid t-shirt stunt think about how their actions might have encouraged it?
Obviously not. Suarez returned from his ban yesterday to a standing-ovation from Liverpool fans and comments Dalglish that "he should ever have been away".
The fact is, when the Liverpool squad came out in those shirts, they created an opening for every racist Liverpool fan to have that conversation in the pub after the game. They created a space where racism 'wasn't that bad, really' and where cheering racism became a demonstration of loyalty to your club.
Football is weird. It's one of the few places where you pick an allegiance and stick to it forever for basically no reason apart from that's who you've picked (maybe because of where you live, your family etc). Every bad decision against you is a severe injustice while every one in your favour is ammunition for pisstaking late into the evening. You hope any small foul on one of your players will get their player sent off and you hope - really hope - that studs up, over-the-ball tackle from your centre back went unnoticed.
This season though, things have gotten bad. It's obvious that when your star striker gets a lengthy ban or your captain gets stripped of the role then you're going to be gutted as your chances of a top four spot or winning the European Championships start looking slim. But, as Blackburn striker Jason Roberts said, "some issues are bigger than football".
This year, my team is currently battling for a Champions League spot (Europa League if I'm being honest). We've taken the heaviest beating I can ever remember taking while Spurs look likely to take our Champions League spot. But more than anything, this has been a good year for racism in English football. And that's probably the worst thing about this season.