Irish game is still fighting race war
AND we thought we had moved on.
Back in the 1960s, it was deemed acceptable for a League of Ireland player, of mixed race, to be given the nickname ‘Darky’ Keogh.
In his early career, Paul McGrath reacted to “the bait of a familiar comment about my colour” while playing for Dalkey United, kicked his racist opponent, was sent off and his club fined £3 (which, he reveals in Back from the Brink the club refused to pay, on principle) while the racist went unpunished.
Over time, a battle with racism within Irish football was fought, landmarks along the way.
It was a big deal when Chris Hughton became the first black player to win an Ireland cap, in 1979.
By 2006, Steven Reid would have the honour of captaining the Republic, against Holland in Dublin, and not once would his skin colour be mentioned.
Current Ireland underage international teams are backboned by players like Ogbungo, Agberhiere and Obosele, again without comment needed. Two of the heroes for Bohemians last season, a very Dublin club, were called Sule and Akinade, Nigerian natives with Dublin accents.
Had the battle been won? Had racism been kicked out of Irish football?
Comments from Cyrus Christie in recent days bring forth concern. Tweets from two twitter accounts said that, on the back of the World Cup defeat to Denmark, Christie should be “lynched”, was “not Irish” and should go away and play for Jamaica.
The timeline of one of those account holders suggests that his mind is a sewer.
This man tweets a lot about Millwall FC, right wing politics and “British workers”. For a Millwall fan living in England, he spends a lot of time thinking about the Irish national team. And Christie.
But the words hit hard. “It is deeply saddening that racism is still part of the game we all enjoy and love. I strongly believe we need to stand up against these individuals who do not belong in football or any other sport,” Christie said. The matter has been referred to the Gardaí by the FAI.
One of those tweeters can be dismissed as a raging loon who deserves no more time that the attention he has already received. But, as Christy Moore said of Margaret Thatcher: “Perhaps the poor lady might be totally mad. But that would be to trivialise her absolute danger to us all”.
Whatever about tweets from English right-wing nuts, Irish football has had issues with racism in the game - and still has in the online world.
In 2008 two clubs (Cobh Ramblers and Galway United) were sanctioned by the FAI for “racist comments” directed at opposition players and individual players from Bohemians (2009) and Shamrock Rovers (2011) were given suspensions by the FAI for racist comments made towards an opponent.
Recently it seemed like the battle was being won, that education was kicking racism out of the Irish game.
But it’s not all perfect. Earlier this year, Shamrock Rovers’ Israeli international keeper Tomer Chencinski took to twitter to complain about “some of the racist Dundalk fans. Absolutely disgusting. Heckling is one thing, being racist is something else”.
Last year, Bray Wanderers publicly criticised “stupid and hurtful comments” made online by the club’s then General Manager. The most shocking of those was a profoundly disturbing “joke” which described Raheem Sterling as a “monkey”.
But what was shocking about the Christie episode after the Denmark game was the player’s assertion that the racism was not new.
“There have been a number of racist comments which have been brought to my attention during the World Cup qualifying campaign over the last couple of months and, most recently, last week,” Christie said.
He’s had this before. “I’ve had experiences when I was younger. There was a lot of racism back then from opposition,” Christie said before Euro 2016, his upbringing in Coventry.
“Where I went to school it was bang in the middle of two racist areas. There used to be a lot of race wars.”
Of present-day racism he said: “On social media it does happen quite a bit because it does give certain people a platform to get away with it. Sometimes you just have to brush it off.”
But brushing it off is no longer enough.