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Secret Footballer: Lifting the lid on 'racism'

The Secret Footballer says more education must be offered over 'racist terminology' after expressing sympathy for Wigan chairman Dave Whelan.

Whatever you think of Dave Whelan's comments, the Wigan Athletic owner and chairman certainly isn't alone in causing offence with remarks that some have suggested are racist and anti-Semitic. That doesn't make him right, of course, but it does highlight the lack of education in bridging the gap between the once acceptable and the now unsayable.

The instances of people believing that they are using the right terminology - only to be accused, at best, of ignorance and, at worst, anti Semitism - is as long as it is varied.

Alan Hansen, the former TV pundit, springs to mind when, during a broadcast of "Match Of The Day", he referred to black players as "coloured". Twenty years ago, no one would have batted an eyelid. Yet language and the context in which it is used is continually evolving.

It doesn't wait for people to catch up with it and, subsequently, there is a large crater where "education" should be sitting. And that doesn't just leave the game of football on shaky ground but society in general.

Even informed debate is at risk, with some commentators pilloried for daring to suggest that the racism card is played too easily. The net result is that no one knows what to say, so no one says anything at all. While that may sound like the perfect outcome for campaign groups such as "Kick It Out", it would, in fact, be a huge backward step for society.

I have a friend who tones down his voice when he says the word "black" - as if he isn't sure if he should be referring to black people as black. Who knows, in 20 years' time, he may well be labelled a racist. Maybe, somewhere in the world, he already is.

Of course, there are plenty of examples of racism in the ugly form that everybody understands.

Occasionally, the world of football is not a nice place. I've seen it all from banana throwing to monkey dancing and racist chanting to players calling each other by the 'N' word. At one club I used to play for, two black players bought each other doormats with pictures of monkeys on them to put on the floor by their changing-room locker at the training ground.

The backdrop to this was an ongoing "joke" over who was the biggest monkey - the player from Africa or the player whose roots lay in the Caribbean.

It got progressively worse, with one of them ordering a trailer of bananas from a local wholesaler and burying his team-mate's car under them. Eventually, the manager had to step in after a journalist took pictures of our changing-room that clearly showed the doormats.

In fact, that journalist was actually snooping around for the death threat that somebody had sent to another player - relating to a separate incident - that was pinned to our noticeboard. For a time, those two players made each other laugh every single day with behaviour that most people would find disgusting.

The truth of the matter is that we all know what racism looks like in its crudest form. We don't need the most vulgar racism defined for us. We know what is unacceptable in those terms and, importantly, most of us aren't just adhering to it against our will, we agree with it. But there are many areas left that are murky. We simply don't know if we can say some things or not.

Because of that, it is important that when different opinions are offered, there isn't a kneejerk backlash that instantly saddles someone as a racist who ought to be burned at the stake immediately.

In that respect, we can all do more.

"The Secret Footballer's Guide To The Modern Game" is out in all good book stores.

You can read his latest blogs at www.thesecretfootballer.com and follow the player on Twitter - @TSF


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