Clubs must do more to stop scapegoating of black players

It is good that people like him and United’s young striker, Marcus Rashford, have had enough.

In Summary

• By blaming Twitter for racial abuse in the game, it misses the point of the issue.

• Both Paul Pogba and Marcus Rashford have been subjected to taunts this week.

Manchester United's Paul Pogba and Marcus Rashford
Manchester United's Paul Pogba and Marcus Rashford

I admire Harry Maguire for speaking out about the racial abuse directed at Paul Pogba on Twitter after the France World Cup winner missed a penalty against Wolves last week. Maguire’s a new boy at Old Trafford but he is already showing on and off the pitch he is exactly the kind of leader that Manchester United have been missing.

I like the anger England women’s manager Phil Neville exhibited when he was talking about the racism that pockmarks Twitter’s interaction with football, too. It is good that people like him and United’s young striker, Marcus Rashford, have had enough.

It is good that a club as powerful and as influential as United will be talking to Twitter in light of the treatment meted out to Pogba.


But they’re missing the point. Yes, on nights like last Monday, Twitter is a cesspit, a receptacle for the scum that lie in wait for moments like that missed penalty. It was the same story again on Saturday when Rashford missed a spot-kick in United’s defeat by Crystal Palace.

But the problem doesn’t start with Twitter and it certainly doesn’t end with it. Twitter is not the originator of this. It is just a vehicle that happens to be at hand, engine running, keys in the ignition.

Blaming Twitter trivialises the issue. The scapegoating of black players for the failings of a team, or a manager, or an owner, is a mirror of a society where a fear of immigration - and of immigrants - has come to dominate the political landscape.

As isolationism and nationalism have grown more powerful again as political doctrines, the default mechanism of a certain band of moron fans is to blame the black guy. It is true that Twitter and other social media outlets like Facebook are pathetically lax when it comes to racism, misogyny and other forms of flagrant, vicious abuse on its platforms but racism in football won’t stop if football boycotts Twitter.

If football boycotts Twitter, racism will just pop up somewhere else in football, like some twisted game of Whac-a-Mole. Do you really think racism in the game will go away if Twitter and Facebook become more proactive in cleaning up their platforms? Of course it won’t. The problem is much wider. It is buried deeper. In fact, if there was a good thing about the abuse that Rashford, Pogba, Tammy Abraham and Yakou Meite were subjected to in the last fortnight, it was that it made the extent of the problem clear.

There is no room for denial any more. Yes, it is wrong that Twitter provides scum with a platform to vent their racist views but let’s not get this backwards. Twitter isn’t the scary thing here. The scary thing is that this kind of racism, this kind of hatred, is breeding again in football and breeding fast. It is going to take a lot more than regulating social media to stop it.

It is there, most obviously, in the rise of racist abuse on social media and in the most peremptory study of the fans who follow the England team abroad. It is always worth saying the majority of those fans are the best of England supporters, loyal fans who have a thirst for travel and expanding their horizons and supporting their team. 


But they, too, recognise there is an increasing minority of travelling fans with far right allegiances. It is there, too, in more insidious ways. The departure of Sol Campbell as Macclesfield Town manager, after the superb job he did keeping the club in the league last season, means that there are now only five black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) managers in our top four divisions: Nuno Espirito Santo at Wolves, Sabri Lamouchi at Nottingham Forest, Darren Moore at Doncaster, Keith Curle at Northampton and Dino Maamria at Stevenage.

Footballers boycotting social media won’t fix that. If anything, it would leave the stage open for others to peddle their vile views.  Why give them that satisfaction? I’d rather the game tried to make real advances. I’d rather clubs worked on making improvements that did more than pay lip-service to the desire for change.

It is to the EFL’s credit that it decided during the summer that it would formalise the enforcement of the Rooney Rule, which it had been piloting for the previous 18 months and which means that clubs must interview at least one BAME candidate when searching for a new first-team manager. This is the season when that promise has to be delivered by clubs with vacancies.

English football still has a problem with trusting black men in positions of responsibility. That applies to the boardroom, the dug-out and the pitch. We talk about black players in terms of pace and power. We trust black players to be runners and tacklers. We don’t trust them to be thinkers. How many black playmakers are there?

Don’t throw your hands up at this and say it’s political correctness gone mad. It isn’t. For a long time, there was a scarcity of black quarterbacks in American football. That kind of prejudice takes time to overcome. That’s the reason why the Rooney Rule is so important. It must be scrutinised so that it is not allowed to be ignored. And if it is observed and if more aspiring black managers get the chance to put their case - even if it is to white club owners and all-white club boards - then change will happen and it will begin to spread.

It won’t end racism in the game but it will change the tone in English football. It will transmit a message that aspiring black managers are not being discriminated against as they are now. It will take time and when it happens, it may enrage pathetic, racist trolls on Twitter but, set in the face of real progress, who really cares about them?