Quite a game, no? Nick Miller watched Arsenal's thrilling 1-1 draw with Everton and saw two teams who have improved, leaving certain others trailing...
Another rotten day for David Moyes, whose desperation for a win was epitomised by the selection of an unfit Robin van Persie in attack. It's looking pretty worrying indeed...
It is an unwelcome but evident truth that homophobia still very much exists in football, the unspoken and dirty secret of a sport that is intended to be, and promoted as being, all-inclusive and welcoming to all aspects of society. A recent YouGov study revealed that 80% of English fans and 70% of Scottish fans think homophobia is still present in today's game.
Its presence can be found in both obvious and more subtle examples. 'We are Brighton', a blog about the most notorious recipients of such abuse, published a stark account of the treatment received by the club's fans upon a recent trip to Elland Road, but it would be foolish to consider Leeds as the sole offenders. Brighton recently released a list of football clubs whose away fans sung homophobic chants. Nine Championship clubs were featured, close to half their opponents.
Well away from the Amex Stadium, rather more explicit epithets ("get up you faggot", "you've got a poof's haircut") are mixed with an underlying tone indicating a desperate desire for machismo to be displayed. The phrase "it's a man's game" might not directly attack the gay community, but it certainly hints at the demand for perceived masculinity from a certain section of supporters and players: the Sunday League football dressing-room almost acts as the last bastion of testosterone. I hope it seems bizarre to most readers, but here homosexuality is almost seen as a weakness. Players are not necessarily directly victimised, but made to feel inadequate. "Chris is a good finisher, but it's just a shame that he's
got dodgy hamstrings gay." The ingrained aversion in both football and working-class culture may not be deliberate but should be viewed as no less ignorant nor disappointing, and the most salient (and damaging) statistic also comes from YouGov - whilst 80% of fans believe that homophobia exists, less than half see it as a serious issue. Surely its mere presence is an issue?
Given the status quo, any stance or initiative should be welcomed, whether this be directly targeting those responsible for such moronic behaviour or educating the masses through exposure and awareness. It is therefore almost a testament to the haphazard and ill-advised methods enacted this weekend that I should be entirely critical of Stonewall's Rainbow Laces campaign. We are told that action always beats inaction, that something is better than nothing, but such was the inadequate nature of this weekend's initiative, it may well have done more harm than good. In case you weren't aware, Stonewall sent out rainbow-coloured laces to Premier League football clubs, along with a range of pundits and footballing 'celebrities'.
For balance, Stonewall are a fine charity with an excellent record of campaigning and lobbying against the prehistoric Section 28 Local Government Act, which prevented Local Authorities from "promoting homosexuality". Upon the Act's repeal in 2003, Stonewall has focused its efforts on eradicating negative stereotypes across communities nationwide, and promotes research into the abuse of homosexuals.
Such an impressive resume grates against the events of the last fortnight. Initially, the charity made the decision to issue the laces a mere seven days before the designated weekend. Whilst this may have been an attempt to avoid potentially crippling red tape, the failure to consult the Premier League clubs themselves on the issue can only be viewed as mindless. The first many knew was when the laces arrived on the doormat - a terrible lack of communication. As Spurs, who backed the principle but not the campaign, stated: "Whilst the campaign message is positive and one we support, there was unfortunately no prior consultation with ourselves, the Premier League or other clubs."
However, it was Stonewall's choice of commercial partner, Paddy Power, that was the architect of the campaign's downfall. The Irish bookmakers have an aggressive marketing strategy that has, at times, verged on offensive. Their most famous stunt may have been Nicklas Bendtner's lucky pants, but this is a company that asked visitors to Cheltenham horse racing festival to "spot the stallions from the mares", distinguishing transgender ladies from those they considered fat and ugly. They have also created adverts featuring betting on which OAPs would avoid being knocked over by a van when crossing a road, mocked blind footballers kicking cats, pictured the apostles at the Last Supper gambling between themselves and are sponsoring a trip by Dennis Rodman to North Korea. Is this really the appropriate bedfellow for such an initiative? I fully understand the advertising mantra of 'any publicity is good publicity', but when attempting to simply raise awareness for what is a serious and underlying societal issue, should morality not slightly register amongst the demand for numbers? That sad conclusion is that whilst Paddy Power will be happy with the resultant column inches, Stonewall will surely not benefit as much, perhaps even seeing their reputation and respect within the game diminish thanks to their ill-informed plan.
Furthermore, the choice of a bookmaker at all seemed a hugely ill-advised tactic. Three Premier League clubs have bookmakers as primary shirt sponsor, whilst 13 have official relationships with similar organisations. The clubs, all too aware that Paddy Power, whilst offering their support were also hoping to gain from free exposure and guerrilla marketing, understandably refused to comply. Many will have had contractual obligations to do so - others simply saw the transparency of Paddy Power's commercial aspirations. As Manchester United insisted: "The club supports the League's central anti-discrimination efforts through Kick It Out, rather than working with a commercial provider on a campaign." The only club to fully endorse the campaign, Everton, are also the only one to have Paddy Power as official betting partner - this is not a coincidence.
Paddy Power themselves are less than popular amongst many Premier League clubs, given their controversial treatment of some high-profile stars. The bookmaker ran a campaign that mocked the performance of several footballers, including suggesting that Fernando Torres should be flipping burgers. You may find this amusing (Lord f*cking help you if you do) but it will evidently not ingratiate any company to the clubs involved.
The final nail in the campaign's coffin was the stance taken by Stonewall, evidently guided by Paddy Power and their financial sway. The tagline was chosen as 'Right behind gay footballers', an evident semantic play on male homosexual sex. Now, I understand that this is an aim to reclaim the term, to take the abuse from the homophobe and throw it back at them in a 'we have nothing to be ashamed of' mentality, an almost deliberately liberationist stance, but does it not trivialise somewhat the commonplace abuse received in insults such as 'backs against the wall lads'? Is this not precisely the time to avoid making jokes, marking down such comments as unacceptable?
I understand that context and intent is everything, but it just doesn't sit right. Imagine the understandable furore if an anti-racism campaign included a negative stereotype about black people - it would be seen as understating and undermining the importance of the issue, veering worryingly close to that most dangerous of abstract notions: b*nter. The blurred line between abuse and b*nter is how we got in this mess.
That was certainly the thought of anti-homophobia group Football v Homophobia: "We feel it is incongruous to run a campaign aiming to change football culture whilst using language which reinforces the very stereotypes and caricatures that, in the long term, ensure that homophobia persists." Well, quite.
There is no doubt that homophobia would be vastly reduced by high-profile footballers revealing their homosexuality, but in order for that to occur those individuals must feel confident enough that they can continue to operate in their industry and career without fear of negativity or abuse - they cannot be forced to come out. It must therefore be the role of campaigners and charities to help create such an environment, through education and communication.
The choices and actions made by Stonewall in the past fortnight may have damaged such a goal. Rather than include and incorporate, they have divided, both in football and amongst its own stakeholders. Rather than planned and considered, they opted for smash and grab. And rather than sincerity, they opted for b*nter. That's a completely unsatisfactory approach.
Daniel Storey - follow him on Twitter
@dirtyblonde I objected to your statement that the left are only moral when it suits them, i.e.) that they preferred to act immorally on occasions. Probably whilst championing LGBT rights, or the right to practice a religion other than the one that happened to arrive in this country first, or the right to free healthcare etc.etc.- amcky