By: Tony Best
English soccer, a lucrative sport for Black players from the Caribbean and Africa, is coming under the microscope for old scourge: racism on and off the field.
More and more players from Africa, South America, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados Grenada and some of their neighbors are looking to Major League Soccer in the U.S. as a way station before begotiating hefty contracts in England and Europe, but some of them are running into racism from players and fans.
The problem became so severe that Britain’s Prime Minister, David Cameron had to step in and urge football authorities to end racism in the sport. Now a tribunal in Kent has begun to hear evidence in an explosive case involving a West Indian who accused his former English club, Gillingham, of racial discrimination.
And while Paul Scally, Chairman of Gillingham professional football team has dismissed as being of “no substance” Mark McCammon’s charges that he was discriminated by the club because of his color, the hotly debated issue of racism in football isn’t expected to go away any time soon.
McCammon, who was born in England but represented Barbados five times in international matches scoring four goals played for Gillingham for three seasons and in his complaint he alleged that Black players were treated differently from whites. He is the first soccer professional to take an English club to court alleging racism.
The tribunal’s hearing began a few months after Cameron, convened a summit at 10 Downing Street, the official residence of the Prime Minister, with the representatives of the Premier League, Football Association, League Managers’ Association, Professional Footballers’ Association and some England players to discuss a number of incidents of racist behavior on and off the field by players and fans. The government has demanded that the Football Association come up with a firm action plan to address the issue of racial discrimination in its ranks.
In his complaint, the 33 year old Black forward who appeared in more than 50 League games for Gillingham cited several instances of alleged bias. For instance, he charged that he and other Black players were ordered to the ground on a snowy day in 2010 when driving conditions were “treacherous” but white players were told they shouldn’t appear. The 6ft. two inch striker, who also played for Charlton Athletic, Swindon Town, Millwall and Brighton & Hove Albion alleged that Gillingham declined to pay for expert medical surgery to treat a football injury, offering instead care by the National Health System, a move he described as “completely out of character” for a League club. At the same time, though an injured white player was flown at the club’s expense to Dubai for treatment by an eminent physiotherapist. As if those complaints weren’t bad enough McCammon charged that the club dismissed him after he had complained about racism and it then refused to pay him. He is seeking substantial financial damages to compensate him for pain and suffering.
That wasn’t all. He claimed that after he was let go, Gillingham and its chairman were “effectively campaigning covertly against me” in an effort to scuttle his career. In the end after showing interest, almost a dozen clubs wouldn’t offer him a job, often declining at the last minute to conclude negotitions.
“It soon became known that the chairman had been interfering,” McCammon charged.
The West Indian had signed with Gillingham in 2008, earning (English pounds sterling) 2,500 a week and became the club’s highest paid player. After a brilliant start, things deteriorated and by the third season he was no longer in the team’s future plans. Matters came to head on November 30, 2010 when he was ordered to the ground with two Black players despite the awful snowy condition. When he arrived he went straight to the office of the manager, Andy Hesssenthaler, and confronted him about being “racially intolerant.”
In his appearance, the Gillingham Chairman said the claims were without foundation. “I can honestly say we have never in 18 years had an allegation of racism to consider but we take racism seriously as a football club. I didn’t take (McCammon’s claims) serious as I considered it to be vindictive claim of racial discrimination. I considered it to be a malicious, vindictive, wild and aggressive comment, not worthy of consideration as racism.”
But McCammon isn’t alone in raising the specter of racism in football. John Terry, the England captain, is being investigated for allegedly using a racial slur to Anton Ferdinand, a Queens Park Ranger defender during a match between Chelsea and QPR. The incident is also being investigated by the Metropolitan Police and Terry is to face trial for the alleged offense. A week before that incident, Patrice Evra charged that in a 1-1 draw between Manchester United and Liverpool, Luis Suarez called him a “certain word at least 10 times.” Suarez and Liverpool denied the allegation but Suarez was forced to apologize for refusing to charge hands with Evra before the team played at Old Trafford. That happened on his return after he was slapped with an eight-match ban for racially abusing Evra during a match last October.
Several Black players, including Stan Collymore who played for England and 30 year old Jon Nurse, a West Indian striker for Dagenham and Redbridge, said that racism was a hard fact of life in English football.
Collymore, who has retired from the game, recalled he was once told by a player “at least my mother never slept with a coon” while Nurse said that he experienced racism from fans and players. The use of the “N” and “C” words by white players, the throwing of bananas from the stands and making monkey chants are said to be regular offences at soccer games.
Scores of Blacks from across Africa, Brazil and the Caribbean now account for about 20 per cent of the players in the various divisions of English soccer and represent clubs in Europe where racist comments and actions from fans and players are said to be increasing. For example, Uefa, the organization running European soccer is investigating a charge that Ashley Young, an England player was abused by fans in Bulgaria last month. Four years ago, the Croatian Federation was fined more than $20,000 over racist chanting directed at England’s Emile Hesky. Brazil’s legendary Roberto Carlos has complained about racism directed at him in Russia.