The So-Called Beautiful Game Is More Ugly Than Ever

Who remembers the summer? One of the greatest World Cups ever, or at least the greatest that I have experienced. With low expectations of Russia 2018, the violence that many predicted was suppressed and the home nation were the ultimate hosts. The atmosphere was simply magic.

In England the sun was out, the beer was flowing, and Gareth Southgate with his squad of merry men turned the nations mood into one of hope and optimism. We could forget about all of the shit that was going on politically and get behind a young group of players defying the odds.

This is what made me fall in love with football. The power it has to make people happy, to make people believe, and more importantly the power to bring people together.

And then the start of the Premier League. For the first time in a couple of years, it seems we have a proper title race on our hands, Fulham and Wolves returned to the top flight like the good old days, and the football itself has been out of this world. It really is the Beautiful Game.

But it isn’t though. The past couple of weeks have shown this. News story after news story of racism and sexism have highlighted just how ugly football is right now.

2 weeks ago in the North London derby, a banana was thrown at Arsenal striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang after scoring in a 4–2 win for The Gunners, with the culprit charged with a lifetime ban soon after. Following the incident, Kick It Out, English football’s equality and inclusion organisation, stated

“Our latest reporting figures show incidents of racism are on the rise and the banana throwing at the north London derby should be seen in that context.”

But that was just a one-off right? Nope. Skip forward the following day to the award ceremony for the Ballon d’Or and perhaps more notably, the first ever Ballon d’Or Féminin. A huge moment in the history of women’s football where the best female player on the planet is recognised alongside the best male player. This, with VISA becoming the first ever sponsor of UEFA women’s football, in the same week? It seems like women’s football is catching up with the male game. Attitudes must be shifting.

Step forward French DJ and humungous bell-end Martin Solveig who on awarding the prestigious Ballon d’Or Féminin to Ada Hegerberg asked her

“Est-ce que tu sais twerk?”— Can you twerk?

If you’re not 100% sure who Ada Hegerberg is, she has won the Division 1 Féminin 4 times, the Coupe de France 3 times, the UEFA Women’s Champions League 3 times, UEFA Best Women’s Player in Europe and Norwegian Sportsperson of the Year in 2016, the BBC Women’s Footballer of the Year in 2017 and now, the first ever Ballon d’Or Féminin. And she’s 23.

To give that a little context, I’m 23 and all I’ve won in my life is a £50 Amazon voucher for filling out a survey. A task which didn’t require any skill. Ada Hegerberg is incredible, and yet, in possibly the biggest moment of her life, and one of the most important moments in the women’s game, she is asked to twerk. For fuck’s sake Martin. Please remember that in this situation you are inadvertently representing men, and we’re not all slimy shit bags like yourself.

A terrible 2 days where both big sporting occasions where overshadowed by 2 moments of complete and utter madness. But the ‘madness’ didn’t stop. And to call them both ‘moments’ is looking more passé as the days go by. The problems within the game are clearly institutional and dare I say cultural.

Saturday 8th December and Premier League favourites Man City travelled to Stamford Bridge to face a Chelsea side who were also among the top contenders to challenge for the trophy. The game finished in a surprise 2–0 win for Sarri’s men but yet again, the game itself was overshadowed by reports of alleged racism directed at England forward and scapegoat for the media, Raheem Sterling. When collecting the ball which had trickled off for a corner, he was clearly subject to a handful of Chelsea fans incessantly screaming at him with footage suggesting that one fan screamed racial abuse.

Watch the man who is ironically on the far right wearing the blue jacket. I think it’s pretty clear what he says.

That’s not football. In this sort of atmosphere you can give a bit of leeway for banter and chanting. Nothing brings me more joy than a stand full of fans chanting “YOU’RE SHIT AAAAAHH” when a keeper takes a goal kick. This sort of thing isn’t aimed at that specific player and everybody knows it’s just a bit of fun. But that’s not what happened on Saturday. That was unbridled racist animosity.

It’s worth noting the class with which Sterling handled the situation. First, laughing at the culprits and then composing a stark comparison of how the press have treated him versus fellow Man City youngster Phil Foden, thus fuelling racism and hatred in the sport. Raheem Sterling is a hero.

It pains me to say that in half a year, football has gone from bringing nations together in the most spectacular celebration of the game anywhere on the planet, to indefensible laddish culture which is scarily prevalent in the game, and it’s more ugly than ever. Football has the power to put a smile on anybody’s face, and to isolate and belittle people in the game because of their race, religion, gender or sexuality is shameful. I have always tried to defend football but sometimes there is no defence.