On the opening day of this year’s season, I went to see Chelsea play Crystal Palace. The match programme featured an article on Paul Canoville, Chelsea’s first black player. I remember watching him in the 1980s when he was racially abused by his own fans. Large sections of the crowd taunted him with monkey chants and racist slurs. Outside on the Fulham Road, bigots sold National Front News and urged fans to ‘Keep Britain White’.
This grotesque spectacle wasn’t confined to Chelsea. At every ground, black players faced abuse from supporters. We’ve come a long way since then. A few years ago, Paul Canoville returned to Stamford Bridge and did a lap of honour before the match. The crowd gave him a standing ovation. This season, Chelsea named a suite in his honour.
Yet before the game, when the players took the knee, some boos rang out. The pattern was repeated at other grounds. As the season continues, it’s likely that like last year we will still see fans booing players who take the knee. But the hostility of some sections of the crowd to a gesture associated with the Black Lives Matter movement should not be misconstrued as racism.
The founders of BLM describe themselves as ‘trained Marxists’. Their aims are to overthrow capitalism, undermine the ‘patriarchy’ and dispense with the kind of ‘toxic masculinity’ that is essential to the success of black, brown and white footballers. Can you imagine Ian Wright, Alan Shearer or even Gary Lineker without ‘toxic masculinity’ – that instinct to batter defenders and score at any cost? Who would they be without the work ethic and belief in merit that are now, along with the will to win and turning up to training on time, condemned