Yesterday I was invited onto the Today Programme to talk about the Carol Thatcher ‘gollywog’ row. During the interview with John Humphrys (which you can listen to HERE) I made a relatively jocular reference to Adrian Chiles, and said he had probably heard far worse at the Hawthorns every Saturday afternoon. West Brom fans have taken great umbrage at this. I can see why they think I must have been referring to racial comments at the Hawthorns (a ground I have yet had the pleasure of visiting) but that is not what I meant. I just meant that at football grounds in general, the ‘banter’ is of a fairy extreme variety, and not a place for those of a delicate nature. I am only too well aware of WBA’s trailblazing record in this area (Cyrille Regis, Laurie Cunnigham etc), so I would certainly not wish to cast a slur on the club.
I deplore racism in all its forms and if I thought Carol Thatcher’s remark was racially motivated I would be joining the people who seem to be delighting in her predicament. I’m not going to rehearse all the arguments here – it’s not the place to do it.
The reason I want to clarify my remarks regarding WBA is that I recognise how horrible it is not just to be accused of racism, but for it even to be hinted at.
Indeed, on two occasions at West Ham I have intervened when I heard a racial comment being directed at a player (on the first occasion it was aimed at one of our own players, Matthew Rush) and asked the idiot to button it. I can’t pretend I wasn’t nervous about doing it, but everyone around me backed me up (luckily!) on each occasion. I would like to think I would do it again but I am glad to say it hasn’t happened since 2001.
A couple of months ago, someone a couple of rows behind me shouted out to an opposing player something which many would regard as homophobic. I couldn’t decide whether it was banter or really was homophobic. By the time I had decided that yes, it was homophobic, the moment had kind of passed and I did nothing. I’d like to think if it happens again I’d have the guts to turn around and say “that’s me you are talking about. You got a problem?” If it does happen, no doubt you’ll read about it here.
UPDATE: I have just posted a thread on my political blog explaining how the debate on this thread has been far better informed and polite than the debate there. Wonder how my political readers will react! I have quote Darren’s comment in full at 10.43am. He sums up the dilemma perfectly, and with great humour.