Rio Ferdinand sensibly called for the FIFA to start docking points of teams whose fans exhibited racist behaviour. Following the pitiful fine FIFA dished out to Croatia after their fans made monkey noises whenever Emile Heskey was on the ball in England’s recent, Ferdinand was concerned at FIFA’s poor commitment to kicking racism out of football.
During England’s match against Spain in 2004, the black players were subjected to racist chants from the crowd. The previous evening, the black players of the England U-21 team endured the same treatment. Spain’s manager, Aragones, refused to comment on the incident. This was just a month after he called Thierry Henry a “shitty black” when talking to then Arsenal Jose Antonia Reyes.
Yet puzzlingly another Arsenal player, Cesc Fabregas, insists Spain aren’t racist.
After the match in Spain in 2004, famed Spanish journalist, Guillem Balague, responded to the racist chants. “In our country, where multi-culturalism is a new thing, we are in nappies dealing with these things, and have a naivety which makes the English nervous,” he said.
Spain were fined close to £45k for the incident, yet alarmingly, Fabregas seems to think the incident was exaggerated, and that Spanish fans aren’t racist.
“I don’t know if racism is the word,” said Fabregas. “I wasn’t in the team when that match was played but Ashley Cole was playing for England and he felt a little upset. They see us as racists. But I don’t think we are. It’s a bit extreme.”
I suppose the racism is all a figment of our imagination, eh Cesc?
Samuel Eto’o had to be convinced to stay on the pitch when playing for Barcelona at Real Zaragoza two years ago. The referee stopped play so an announcement could be made to the crowd, asking them to stop.
“I’m black too,” said Zaragoza striker Ewerthon. “I’m a Zaragoza player and totally opposed to the fans who did this. I’ve been abused too at other grounds in Spain but we need to rise above this. The Spanish Federation have to start taking proper measures and we as black players also have to act.”
Carlos Ferreyra Nunez, co-ordinator of Spain’s United Against Racism group, reflected on racism in Spanish football back in 2004. “Racism is a cancer that has touched every aspect of football,” he said, adding that racist behaviour could be seen “every week and all over the country.”
Aston Villa’s Dalian Atkinson returned from Spain after one season with Real Sociedad, unhappy with the reception he received, and identifying racial abuse as a major factor in his rapid departure from the Spanish club.
Felix Dja Ettien suffered racial abuse when he first signed for Levante; he was ignored by the coach due to his inability to speak Spanish, and whenever he fell ill he was accused of having malaria or AIDS.
Cameroon’s Idriss Carlos Kameni, who was abused while playing for Espanyol against Atlético Madrid, who were fined €6000.
But the idea that fans in Spain are racist is ‘extreme’ apparently.
Ferdinand has admirably said the England team are prepared to play anywhere, in light of a friendly with Spain being announced, however says the team have plenty of bad memories of that encounter in 2004.
“Going back to Madrid is not a problem,” he said. “Wherever the FA ask us to play isn’t a problem. The players won’t mind that. Everyone knows what happened last time. If we did go back there, it’d be nice to imagine that the same kind of stuff that happened to the black players last time doesn’t happen again. You remember different games for different reasons. That one was remembered for the wrong reasons, which isn’t nice. The Bernabeu holds a lot of great memories for different players and fans across the world, but those were bad memories for us from that one international.”