clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

The top 5 greatest apologies for being racist in soccer

Bigotry in soccer exists

Richard Heathcote

One of the great things about the modern Premier League is that we get players from all kinds of countries and cultures playing in England, which comes with the obvious downside of discovering new and virulent forms of bigotry. The Premier League has turned football from an honest working-class pastime into a sort of half-WWE, half-Wagnerian Gesamkunstwerk Total Entertainment. Racial abuse is one of the many things playing a part in this new order, providing subtext and narrative aplenty as clubs ignore any terrible views any individuals might hold as long as they're good at football, in pursuit of success at all costs.

As an island, and with England being particularly inward-looking, the forms of hatred are sometimes highly parochial -- managing to be racist against the Irish, for example (the whitest people in the world) is a handy reminder that Europeans have kept a whole host of quirky little bigotries that don't fit into the American paradigm of simple skin colour. There's a whole world of hate out there, and as a result, we've had a whole host of new racism scandals in the Premier League even as the old guard of racial discrimination withers away or pretends to no longer exist.

Malky Mackay's scandal has been the latest, and perhaps the most damning of all. Instead of the usual form of 2014 racism -- picking one minority and hating them and them alone -- Mackay's leaked texts to Ian Moody revealed a veritable smorgasbord of bigotry. Black people, Asians, women, Jews, gay people; he had the whole lot, a retro form of blanket bigotry we thought we'd never see the like of again.

So, how can the former Cardiff manager ever get another job? His first attempt at an apology, which came to us via the League Manager's Association, involved the ill-judged use of 'banter', specifically the 'friendly text message' kind, as a defense. Perhaps, if he'd looked to the past, he'd have learned from seeing how other people have dealt with the terrible stain of wrongfully being accused of being racists despite saying racist things. The racism apology is a bizarre and black art, but here are a few top examples that Mackay can use next time around.

5. Ron Noades

"How would I have six black players in the first team if I was racist?"

At first, this seems like a classical defense, a form of logic employed by many sage veterans down through the ages. Unfortunately for Noades, in the context it made absolutely no sense. He had already well informed us why he had six black players in the team -- because they "lend the side a lot of skill and flair, but you need some white players in there too to give the team some brains and common sense."

Tactical analysis wasn't so accepted back then as it is today, and so the analogy failed to catch on in the same way as Bill Shankly's -- "a football team is like a piano, you need eight men to carry it and three who can play the damn thing." Which is a slightly less problematic version, given that piano-based racial metaphors were not invented until 1982, by Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder.

Noades also claimed that he went on to speak at Nelson Mandela's birthday party, and that the black players at Crystal Palace at the time remained on good terms with him. Which is probably why they left the club immediately afterwards.

4. Nicolas Anelka

Some of my best friends are racists

A slightly counter-productive twist on an old favorite. Nicolas Anelka decided to dedicate a celebration after scoring a goal to the comedian Dieudonné M'bala M'bala. The celebration in question was a gesture invented by the comic, the 'quenelle', sadly tarnishing the name of the very tasty French delicacy from which it takes its name. Nobody in Britain had ever heard of him, but after some brief googling it turned out that M'Bala M'Bala and the quenelle appeared to be tremendously anti-semitic, and thus Britain had to struggle to come to terms with a form of racism they didn't really understand.

Not that there's no anti-semitism in Britain, of course. But not so much of the form where you can have villages called "Death to Jews", and be told, as I was, "Oh, Dieudonné? He's funny. Yeah, he says stuff like 'the Jews should go to the ovens', but it's a joke, he's not being serious" at a laid-back house party. To an outsider, it's mystifying. The same racist tropes appear clandestinely across the world, but everywhere hangs onto a couple of forms of bigotry which are proudly displayed out loud, just as the flagrant classism in British society is alien and uncomfortable to visitors traveling in the opposite direction, unless it's in a costume drama.

So the FA had some thinking to do. They studied it, and having considered the cultural nuances, came to the conclusion that it is, in fact, anti-semitic to employ a reverse Nazi salute in favour of a man who is banned from many places for, among other things, claiming that it was a shame the Holocaust didn't kill more people. Whether they'll be able to show the same stunning levels of insight for Mackay's case still remains to be seen.

3. Aviram Baruchyan

I am deeply sorry for my ill-thought words. If my remarks didn't offend anyone, then I apologise. I promise that I am not personally an anti-racist.

A real twist here, but sometimes you have to get creative and look at what the other side are doing. So here's Aviram Baruchyan, captain of the notoriously Arab-hating Beitar Jerusalem, apologizing for ... not being a racist.

Due to Beitar's club culture, their history books and photos adorning the walls of their museums are not exactly replete with non-Israelis. In fact, the club's fans don't take kindly to the notion, particularly when they happen to be Muslims, due to the club's ties to right-wing Israeli politics. So much so that, when the club signed two Chechen Muslims last year, they were met by a torrent of boos and abuse. One of them managed to score, however, silencing his critics ... by prompting a mass walkout by the club's ultras.

A few years ago, captain Baruchyan attempted to change some of that by giving a speech at an anti-violence conference to say that he would be happy for the club to sign Arab Muslim players. The club's ultras then quickly forced him into a U-turn, however, and he told the 'La Familia' supporters organization: "The most painful thing is that I unfortunately hurt Beitar's fans, and I understood that I hurt them very much. It's important for me that the players know and that everyone knows that I am with them through thick and thin, and I don't care what other people think or write. However, it's important for me to stress that I'm not the one who decides on these things, but if at the moment the fans don't want it, there won't be an Arab player in Beitar."

Basically, all Mackay needs to do is convince the world that everybody from Cardiff and all of their fans all hate black people, Jewish people, gay people, Asian people and women, and he has a great excuse.

2. Andy Goram

"I've met men deeply involved with the UVF and been in their company on fleeting occasions. But terrorist sympathiser? No."

If you're looking for an explanation of the above quote, I'm afraid you're going to be disappointed. There isn't one. That alone was Goram's defense, a mere pig-headed denial in the face of bare facts. Somehow, it seems to have worked, too, as he hasn't quite entered media pariah status.

Goram is probably the scariest man ever to have played football, and not entirely due to his terrorist connections. Usually when a player is racist on a pitch, it's the John Terry-style grunting, "black c**t" or a standard racial slur. Goram, however, came out with something much more articulate and infinitely more terrifying to Pierre van Hooijdonk, calling him "an unclean, non-white, non-Protestant with no mother and father."

Now that is perhaps a candidate for the most offensive thing ever uttered in sport. But it didn't stop there, as Goram embarked on a few shows of solidarity with the UVF, a notorious paramilitary group in Northern Ireland whose targets were mostly Catholic civilians. He was pictured with their members several times, but then claimed he was unaware of who they were. Perhaps on one occasion the massive 'UVF' flag they were posing in front of might have tipped him off. He was also, he claims, involved in an unfortunate misunderstanding after he wore a black armband in the game after one of the UVF's most notorious leaders had been killed. It was, in fact, for his dead Aunt Lily, and just rotten luck that he'd decided to wait until four months after her death to make the tribute.

Still, Goram is involved in the game, which is more than can be said for Ron Atkinson. Coaching at Ayr United is not the most glamorous job for a former No. 1 for club and country, but then Goram has other reasons outside the remit of this article that might have hindered any move into management. So, the lesson for Mackay here -- don't apologize at all, admit you said all the racist things, but deny actually being friends with people who murder the people you made the remarks about. Job done.

Dishonorable non-football mention: Richard Nixon

"I am not an anti-Semite. And if anybody who's been in this chair ever had reason to be anti-Semitic, I did."

Not a football one, but a contribution to the ouevre too outstanding to overlook. Nixon, not content with a mere apology, backs it up by pointing out that he's had to go well and truly out of his way not to be a racist. Mere mortals would not have been able to resist, due to the machinations of the dastardly Jews. A clever gambit, but breaking one of the unwritten rules of racism apologies -- "the apology should be less racist than the remarks it is apologizing for."

Readers may have a browse of Richard Nixon's Wikiquote page and search for "Jews" to decide for themselves whether Nixon was an anti-Semite. Although despite those views, and those on race, women, generational conflict and Vietnam therein, Nixon somehow ended up being the first president to implement gender equality and affirmative action bills, and also lowered the voting age and ended the draft. It's hard to see Malky Mackay following the same path.

1. Luis Suarez, Kenny Dalglish, the British media, and the worldwide fans of Liverpool Football Club

A very complex one, this, so let's run down the many facets of the incident and the subsequent apologism.

"But 'negrito' is a term of endearment in Uruguay"

Well, 'c**t' can be a term of endearment in the West of Scotland, but it's unlikely to go down well if used when renewing your wedding vows. It's all about context, and shouting angrily at an opposition player during a heated derby match is neither the time nor the place. Also, he didn't actually call him 'negrito', but 'negro.'

"Suarez's grandfather was black"

"I have black family members" is sure enough an upgrade on the more popular "I have black friends." Unfortunately Suarez would have been unable to converse at length with his grandfather and learn about the plight suffered by oppressed racial minorities and their struggle, however, because as he confessed to Patrice Evra, "I don't speak to blacks."

"The FA panel said that Suarez wasn't a racist"

Just guilty of racial abuse, then, and if we're suddenly believing everything the FA say, guilty of saying he had kicked Evra "because you are black." Can't we draw our own conclusions about this? Do the FA get to decide what is and isn't worthy of making someone a racist? Isn't 'shouting racial abuse' sort of the hallmark of being a racist? If he did it because he was angry, does that mean you're only a racist if you go around shouting racist things at all hours of the day, regardless of company or context?

"But Suarez is good at football"

This was the strangest, and perhaps best of the lot. Suarez would go on to have an exceptional season with Liverpool, cementing his status as one of the best players in the world and earning a move to Barcelona in the process. As a result, the media then lined up to talk about his "redemption", as though he had been criticised for being goal-shy rather than a big racist.

This, therefore provides the best example for how Mackay can solve his little problem. All he needs to do is dig out his boots, come out of retirement and score a few goals, which as we now all know, can erase the stains of racism. Unless he then goes on to bite someone, at which point he becomes a racist again. And gets a better job. Look, we don't make the rules.