Football’s uncomfortable relationship with discrimination.

Jumpers for goalposts, rush goalkeepers and last goal wins, all trademarks of adolescent football where muddy knee slides, heavy rain-covered football shirts and Wembley doubles bring our dreams down to a level in which our young, naïve, dreamy eyes fixate on this game as if it is broadcasted from pillar to post around the world.

For every set of eyes on the planet are watching ready to worship the scorer of the winning goal whether it be man, girl or even the stray dog who has made its way onto the pitch.

Football is pure.

But as we detract from crazy sentimental childhood dreams and take a closer look, the beautiful, pure, all-inclusive game in which we were sold as youngsters is perhaps as toxic and as far from its once romantic self as ever before.

Sexism, racism and homophobia are cancers of the game which continue to dislodge the ideological image in which we once built our love for football upon.

For now, football is becoming increasingly overshadowed by the spiteful, jealous society that we live in, with racial abuse and social media death threats becoming increasingly common as a VAR controversy each weekend.

Social media has become a platform for hate speech to be spread without consequence, for the lack of verification required, the time taken to inflict punishment and the ability to resurface on said platforms following initial prosecution makes social media a playground for the meanest kids on the block to bully at will.

But away from the violent free-for-all of social media, football’s discrimination roots go a lot deeper than jealous bigots behind a fake profile.

Football has and for a while has had a problem with the way in which ethnic groups are marginalised through analysis and stereotyping.

A perfect example of this is the analysis of Tanguy Ndombele, Ndombele has shown time and again this season to be one of the most creative, exciting and expressive players in the Premier League becoming a key player for Tottenham Hotspur.

Despite Ndombele’s exceptional technical ability, the Frenchman has often been tarted with the brush of being a destroyer or a midfield brute who wins the ball and gives it to more talented players, instead of the flair midfielder he is.

Whilst his Tottenham teammate Pierre-Emile Højbjerg is praised for his technical ability and excellent footballing IQ.

Anyone that has watched Tottenham this season would know that if we were to abide by these lazy stereotypes, Højbjerg would in fact be more of a ‘destroyer’ than Ndombele who also has brilliant technical ability.

However, simply putting meaningless titles and tags that we as football fans may have found on the newest rendition of FIFA or Football Manager are in fact often tags we use as blanket comments for players who we may not have seen enough of.

Another example of this was Grahame Souness’ simple misinformed analysis on Moise Kean last season.

Kean had struggled for game time at Everton last season and despite three managers in one season never really found his feet in Merseyside.

After being substituted by Duncan Ferguson after being brought on as a substitute earlier in the game, Souness was quick to defend Ferguson’s decision (nothing wrong with that), alluding to Kean’s lifestyle choices and bad attitude as the reason behind his struggles at Everton as well as the reasoning behind his exit from Juventus.

As it was, Juventus’ need to balance the books after signing Cristiano Ronaldo was one of the reported reasons behind Kean’s departure, and Kean proved to be a very charitable and generous figure on Merseyside last season off the pitch.

This is not a means for me to say Grahame Souness should be cancelled or lose his job or whatever, this is just an example of a pundit who has not done his research and has panicked by jumping on a stereotype that has been used before for players of a similar ethnic background.

But as football fans, we need to demand more of those in football authority.

Why is this player a great athlete? What is it about his/her athleticism that makes them a great athlete, by maturely challenging more of our pundits/analysts without belittling each other.

For a while now, football has had no problem in following the loudest voice in the room, but why are we not following the voices that are the most educated and speak with the most authority?

Another example of discrimination that football needs to tackle is the unconscious racism within the media which hides in plain sight in front of our very eyes.

Raheem Sterling was subject to racist abuse at Stamford Bridge two seasons ago, and was quick to highlight the difference in reporting between ethnic groups in the mainstream media, with a headline reading “England failure steps off plane and insults fans by showing off blinging house” in a story about Sterling buying a house for his mother, whilst when Phil Foden bought his mother a new house the headline reads “Phil Foden buys new £2 million house for his mum”

Discrimination is an issue that is far deeper than football and is in fact a symptom of a fractured society that we live in.

But in what world, is it okay for national newspapers and media outlets to write their agendas in a story differently based upon someone’s skin colour?

And more so, how is this not actively being discouraged at schools / colleges or even universities teaching the next generation of sports journalists and broadcasters?

The Black Lives Matter movement is something that has divided opinion since football decided to take the knee in solidarity before most games up and down the country, whether you agree with the movement or not it is a step in the right direction, a very small step, but a step nonetheless.

The taking of the knee before each game is an opportunity for parents to teach their children lessons before a football game, an opportunity to say we do this because there are nasty things that go on in the world and this gesture is to show that we are against those bad things.

This is one of the first meaningful steps of football becoming an anti-racist community, however much like slogans and wearing t-shirts because of an awareness week/event is simply not enough for a game globally renowned as the beautiful game.

It is time for football, and us as a collective society to lace up our boots and tackle racism thoroughly and properly.

featured image credit sky sports