Here at the award-winning Football365, we have infuriated many people over two decades, but especially in the last couple with our repeated dissection and objection to how some newspapers have written about and portrayed Raheem Sterling. But we have had support from many, many more readers who could see it wasn’t the pretentious, affected PC liberal nonsense our critics were all too keen to claim.
I don’t intend to go over the specifics again but important things at the heart of this darkness are too little discussed. Laying blame onto newspapers like The Sun and The Mail is easy and 100% right, but much more is going on.
Have we birthed a zombie nation of drooling idiots who just let their minds be warped by tabloid newspaper stories? Do we have an army of stupids who are unable to think critically and dismiss such racially flavoured stories for what they really are? Perhaps.
But which came first? The newspaper bile or the public bile? Did the former engender the latter, or did the latter provide a market for the former?
The first of these possibilities is bad enough, but if it is the second, then we’re really in trouble and sadly – given the nature of the overstretched, profit-driven press today – I suspect it is exactly that.
Tabloid media is largely amoral, it follows the money wherever it is found. If there were more money in non-racist, non-sexist reporting, then that’s the reporting we’d get. Sterling clearly believes the press fuels racist behaviour and it is impossible to argue against that. If the stereotypes of young black men that they plug into with these reports didn’t play well, they would not use them. If there was a negative financial consequence to this or to the ‘sidebar of shame’ culture, it simply wouldn’t exist. But it does exist. While you and I might not run to the Mail website every day for a daily dose of hate, millions absolutely do.
The current homepage of the MailOnline's football website. They know Raheem Sterling is quite rightly the biggest story right now. But… pic.twitter.com/iE1dxLGmut
— Football365 (@F365) December 10, 2018
All of which leaves us with this horrible thought.
The biggest problem is not the papers, it is the public.
We walk among people who devour this sort of media because it confirms and reinforces how they already think and feel. It doesn’t install racism and misogyny within them, that bitter seed has already been planted and is growing in the existential compost of their inner hate. This sort of media feeds, amplifies and gives voice to it, it empowers their bigotry and tells them that they’re right. It should stop, and it should stop now. But the fact it exists at all is a consequence of pre-existing racism, not the cause of it; it is a symptom of the disease.
The waters get muddied by those who think some abuse is really ‘just banter’ and as such, not meant as ‘proper’ abuse and that letting off steam in a football ground is part of the social function of the game and should be discounted as such. There are many who feel being sensitive about such things is part of the hated middle-classification of football and that we’re unfairly calling people racists who are not.
Football is an important cultural driver in society, or at least it can be, but as we know, it can also be the last repository of childish, schoolyard, conservative, outmoded attitudes. While things have improved hugely in the last 30 years, football is still all too often an abusive environment where you can behave in a way which would be unacceptable elsewhere. We allow it to be that.
And this is one of the core problems: the facilitation of abuse. Once it is acceptable, you have taken the lid off Pandora’s box and it is a race down to the lowest common denominator. We don’t care about abuse enough. We think it’s normal or even essential to the game.
The fury that football unleashes in some people happens simply because it can, because we’ve normalised it. But take a civilian to a game for the first time and watch the shock on their face. Look at how weird they think all those furious idiot men at Stamford Bridge are.
Why though? Why is this happening? Until we understand that, we won’t be able to stop it. I was raised to treat people how I’d like to be treated myself and it always seemed like a good idea. It is as good a guideline as any you might find in any faith or creed.
And here we disappear down another dark and airless rabbit hole, but it may offer some insight as why this happening a lot and why it is happening now. Treating people as you’d like to be treated yourself is fine as a concept, but what happens when you have a society that is laced through from top to bottom with self-loathing and discontent? What happens then? What happens when you don’t treat yourself well, when you don’t care anymore, when you’ve lost your investment in the collective good of society? When you feel that nothing really matters, that life is largely an exercise in nihilism and you will sooner or later be crushed under wheels of a bus that you will never get to drive, or even ride on?
We have been encouraged – ironically, by the right-wing newspapers responsible for Sterling’s treatment – to adhere to the Thatcherite notion that there’s no such thing as society. That we are just individuals seeking personal gratification in a ceaseless adventure in consumerism where your self-worth is derived primarily from materialistic consumption. Our economy now relies on you and me believing in this. We have surrendered everything else to this cause.
In this culture, paying your money entitles you to do what you want. Money buys you a ticket to abuse. Everything is for sale and you’re going to take your pound of flesh out of whoever it takes your fancy to hate today. This is the economic and even moral philosophy we’ve been sold as the best humans can muster to further our ambitions. We must reject it. It is not. Increasing a sense of collective worth, where no-one wins unless everyone wins, and decreasing the obsession with the primacy of individual desires, may be one way to undermine the psychology of abuse of any kind. When we are together, abuse one and you abuse us all. But in a fragmented society we’re each alone and easily picked off. So let’s come together.
But if you are an uncritical or unthinking acolyte of this system of both thought and economics, then maybe when you see Sterling, you see a ‘footie idiot’ with a lot of money and feel like that just isn’t fair, so you reach for the biggest abusive stick to beat him with and we all know that stick is engraved with a capital R.
Everything exists within a context, but there is no excusing any of this and at some point we all need to take personal responsibility for what we do. After all, it isn’t hard not to be abusive at a football match. It is surely harder to lose your empathy than it is to deploy it.
As ever, the solution to these problems lie in our collective goodness asserting dominance over the isolated evils by avoiding all the usual divide-and-rule tactics. We must act as one in our intolerance of horrible, divisive and abusive language and behaviour within football, not turn on those who call it out when they see and hear it. Support them. Do not call them do-gooders, liberal bedwetters, PC Nazis and plain old liars. And yet that happens all the time. It is happening now. It will happen again on the BTL comments on this piece (or would have if I’d not just written that).
Football can be a leader in society. It can be a beacon of hope and tolerance, indeed, in some aspects, it already is. But if we are serious in wanting the abuse culture to end, we need to try and understand why it is happening and dig out its tap root culturally, economically and politically. If we don’t it will only keep growing back to the surface.
It is a huge issue, but if we want to live in a world where our lovelight shines brighter than the fires of hate, it is a fight we must join and one which we dare not lose.