The abuse of former Liverpool winger Raheem Sterling has gone way too far – regardless of whether the Chelsea fans were racially attacking him or not on Saturday evening at Stamford Bridge.
He is a young, successful and confident black man and some people just cannot accept that. It seems to be a stereotypical type of middle aged white man that is most troubled by his success, along with the likes of Formula 1 Champion Lewis Hamilton, and they appear to see it as some sort of social injustice. It isn’t. It is representative of how diverse and multicultural Britain is and how opportunities to succeed are opening up more and more for people of ethnic minority. But these racists cannot handle that and it seems the far right are having one last go at bringing back white supremacy.
Footballers of Asian descent are still struggling to make the breakthrough into the professional game and homophobia still runs rife in the sport. Things need to move on, but these bigoted white men still hound and terrify the gay players in the game and they do not feel able to come out and be who they are. It’s a shameful state of affairs given how far society in general has moved on and things need to change. Some former players have come out following retirement and have offered to advocate for and support others to be the first to make that stand. But nobody has come forward through fear of the response they will get from the stands. It’s beyond sad – it’s appalling.
A Spurs supporter was arrested after he threw a banana skin at Arsenal striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang last week. It was an utterly shameful act by a fan of a club whose supporters should know all about being abused for being a minority. He needs to be named, shamed, banned and disowned by Spurs and their supporters. It was a disgraceful and abhorrent act that has no place in the game whatsoever. The men who stood at the front of the stand at Stamford Bridge and unleashed a torrent of aggressive abuse towards Sterling as he collected the ball from in front of them are also a disgrace to themselves, their families, their club, their city and society in general – regardless of whether there was racial abuse. Their basic behaviour was unacceptable. Middle aged men conducting themselves like that towards a man playing football is disgraceful. By all means they should support their team and can boo and jeer the opposition, but they went so far past the line with their conduct on Saturday evening even before the potential issue of racism is addressed. What is that makes them think they have the right to treat another human being in that manner? Would they do it in the street? I would hope not.
A key moment for Sterling appears to be the manner in which he went about leaving Liverpool. He was accused of being a snake and a money grabber by a lot of fans when he decided to leave Anfield to join Manchester City in 2015. Forgiveness seems unlikely with plenty of supporters at the club for the way he, and his agent Aidy Ward, went about forcing the move to The Etihad. But how different was it to Fernando Torres pushing for a switch to Chelsea? Both left a team that was nowhere near matching their ambitions and neither was a player who had grown up as a Liverpool fan. The Spaniard had spent longer at the club and scored more goals, but he ultimately left with nothing to show for his efforts. He went on to win the Champions League with Chelsea. Sterling has won the Premier League with City. Liverpool have won nothing since he left. So is he justified in his choice? Many fans will be so blinkered by the feeling of betrayal that they will be adamant that he was not.
I personally have no issue with a bit of banter and having a pantomime style bit of fun when it comes to the the likes of Sterling and Torres. I don’t see an issue with booing them or jeering when they make a poor pass or miss a shot. It’s part and parcel of the game. But personal abuse on the level we have seen of Sterling goes too far. He decided to leave a football club to join another. That’s all he did. I’m sure many fans reading this will have left a job to go and work for someone else in their life. Should their old company or employer start calling them a snake and giving them vile abuse on social media? They wouldn’t think so.
I’ve not seen or heard racist abuse towards Sterling from Liverpool fans and I hope to never see or hear such a thing. Our fan base should know better given the way John Barnes was treated when he was at the club. He had banana skins chucked from the stands when he played. There are plenty of parallels between him and Sterling. Both were born in Jamaica and went on to play for Liverpool and England. And the pair of them have each been given a very hard time for their performances for the Three Lions. Neither have ever been given the kind of breathing space that white British born players have had from fans or the media. It’s worrying that thirty plus years since Barnes made his England debut we are again seeing the same pattern of behaviour towards Sterling. The media should take a lot of the blame for that.
The difference is how other young black England internationals such as Marcus Rashford, Kyle Walker, Joe Gomez and Trent Alexander-Arnold are treated is stark as well. Sterling isn’t given the same kind of support or patience as any of them. Is it because they live quieter private lives? It might well be. Walker agitated for a move away from Spurs to join City for essentially the exact same reasons Sterling did. He gets his fair share of stick from Tottenham supporters, but his treatment in the media is nothing like Sterling. Is it because he was born in England? Is it because he is perceived to have a quieter and less flashy personal life? Perhaps.
Chelsea have had previous issues with racism and anti-semitism. This is the latest in a series of problems they have had with some of their supporters accused of abusing rivals based on creed or religion. It’s a staggering indictment on the city of London as well. It is the most diverse and multicultural place in the world. These fans should be used to seeing a plethora of ethnicities and religions. They should be used to hearing a tapestry of languages and accents. The football club they purport to support was one of the first to start bringing in players from all over the world. They were the first club to select a starting eleven with no British players when Italian manager Gianluca Vialli sent out his team to take on Southampton on Boxing Day in 1999. It’s double standards and hypocrisy to target rival players for their nationality or ethnicity.
It’s also utterly disgusting and has no place in football or modern society.