When I saw the dog’s abuse Raheem Sterling was getting from what appeared to be a small number of Chelsea supporters (he was booed throughout the game by many more), I thought that would be the end of it. I wasn’t shocked because I have seen players ritually abused at football matches for as long as I can remember. Watching on Sky, I honestly don’t remember if the commentator referred to it. It’s part of the game, isn’t it?
If the sheer venom in the actions and behaviour of some football supporters does not shock me, that doesn’t make it right. I can think of no other profession where it is accepted that workers are expected to be shouted and sworn at. I was at the Memorial Stadium a few years ago when Neil Harris was playing for Millwall. One man started shouting abuse at him, calling him a ‘eunuch’ because the player had a testicle removed during a brave and successful fight against cancer. It was a new one on me and I was appalled. In the meantime, his friends had a laugh. Well, testicular cancer is funny, isn’t it? What’s not to laugh at?
The last refuge of the moronic supporter will be that the abuse is mere ‘banter’. They don’t mean anything by it. It’s just a laugh to get a reaction and to put off the opposing player. Of course it is. Except that is really isn’t. They mean this stuff.
The general hatred of Raheem Sterling is, without any doubt, based around his colour. We can hope beyond hope it’s born of jealousy of his success, but the reality is so much darker. There has been a sustained attack in the red top newspapers against the player and it has rumbled on for years. He buys his mum a house, he has a tattoo – it’s all news and it’s always turned into bad news. He’s greedy, he endorses crime. Well, he’s black: he would. All black people are like that. So, we boo him. Utter tosh.
Was yesterday’s abuse racist? We don’t know yet. I hope not because there is a man of colour standing very close to these angry old men. I don’t think he deserves that any more or any less than Raheem Sterling.
Because of the media’s positive action in highlighting this dreadful business, the police are now involved. If nothing else, I hope this type of exposure makes it clear that such abuse is unacceptable, racist or not. If it was ‘just’ abuse, would it not be helpful if these men were urged to apologise to Sterling by way of some form of restorative justice? That would be up to the player, of course, but as well as using the law, can we not also teach people of the errors of their way? Say sorry, mean it, grow up and move on. And let Raheem Sterling play football.