Black History Month: The “White vs. Black” Football Game You Won’t Believe Ever Existed
In 1979, West Bromwich Albion hosted a testimonial match for one of their oldest players, Len Cantello.
An idea was born, from which it remains a mystery, to have a Black vs White match to commemorate his loyalty to the club.
The idea was explicitly racist.
The color of the skin was the deciding factor in the selection of the team. But at the time, it was taken for granted by players and fans alike.
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In 1979, racism was brazen – white people were hurling curses from the stands at black players and they were divided into a team based on their skin color.
Len Cantello has played for West Brom over 300 times. His team, West Bromwich Albion XI, was made up of white players while the Cyril Regis & Laurie Cunningham XI was made up of black players.
The white players who were part of the West Bromwich squad lost the game 3-2.
With the increase in social media and the lack of participation in grassroots matches, it can be easy to think that racism has improved dramatically since that time.
Fast forward to today and racism is still rife in English football – and it is on the increase.
Social media provides the perfect disguise for people to racially abuse players without repercussions.
Football for equality and inclusion organization Kick It Out reported that racist incidents from grassroots to professional football have increased during the 2019/20 season.
In fact, it was the eighth consecutive year that reports of racism had increased in the English game.
There has been an increase in in-person and racist abuse online. Abuse has even increased without any football actually being played due to Covid-19.
After the Euro 2020 final, some football fans have disgusted the nation with the torrent of racist abuse England players Jadon Sancho, Marcus Rashford and Bukayo Saka have received due to their missed penalties.
The horrific abuse has prompted many leading figures to condemn him, such as Prince William.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: âThis England team deserves praise on social media as heroes rather than racial abuse. Those responsible for this horrific abuse should be ashamed of themselves.
Racism in football today is not as evident as it was when teams were divided based on the color of their skin.
You can look back at the 1979 game and wonder how we allowed such blatant racism to continue in sport.
It is worrying to think that we can look back thirty years from now and have the same thoughts on this current generation of English football.
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Kick It Out released a statement this year that puts into perspective the long road English football has yet to travel to become an accepted sport.
The statement and statistics used predate the racism recorded at Euro 2020.
The statement read: âOur latest annual report for the 2019/20 season shows a shocking increase in levels of racial hatred and abuse, around football matches and on social media – despite the season being suspended for several months due to Covid. -19.
âOur report details the discrimination-related abuses received during the 2019/20 season, both professionally and locally.
âOverall, in professional gambling, we saw a 42% increase in reports of discrimination in total, from 313 to 446. There was also a 53% increase in reported racial abuse in professional gambling. between this season and the last, against 184. to 282.
Although in 1979 there were no repercussions for those who hurled racist slurs at players, there was a similarity in the vile slurs used.
The only difference is that in 1979 they said it in person, at the stadium, but today racists can not only do it but also hide behind a screen to target players off the pitch.
Players of this game have reported hearing words too vile to print in this article. The same words were painted on Marcus Rashford’s mural in Manchester after missing his penalty.
Social media is becoming a hotbed for racist trolls, but racist chants, similar to those heard in 1979, are still being reported today.
Kick It Out continued his statement and said: âLooking at the football season between January 2019 and December 2019, 30% said they witnessed racist comments or chants during a football match.
âA staggering 71% of those polled also said they had witnessed racist comments on social media directed at a footballer. “
Earlier this year, an online petition calling on the FA and the government to ban those who commit racist acts from football fields for life drew more than one million signatures.
Responding to the petition, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: “I have been appalled by the heinous abuse directed at a number of our footballers following Sunday’s game. More needs to be done to prevent people from are intimidated and trolled online.
âNew laws would force social media companies to take responsibility and take action when this despicable behavior exists or could face fines.
“We are also working closely with football and law enforcement authorities to make sure that we can track and take action against online abusers and ban them from football fields in the same way we would if they were. had committed these offenses on our streets. “
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Kick It Out hopes that through their continued community work and education, racism can slowly decrease in the future.
For now, Kick It Out’s strategic goals, which he says will help clean up the English game, are: “Dramatically increase awareness of inclusion and diversity, as well as the consequences of inappropriate behavior in English. all levels of football.
âActively share good practices, critical actions and partnerships aimed at empowering and supporting football organizations to develop their own responsibility for greater fairness and equity.
âClearly demonstrate the importance of exposing inequalities and the positive value and impact that can be generated by collective preventive action. “
To find out more about tackling racism in football and what you can do to help, visit their website here.
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