There are so many powerfully tragic angles to pursue in Paul Canoville's autobiographical, Black and Blue, it is hard to know where to start. The racism he experienced and eventually overcame as a professional footballer at Chelsea, the career ending injury he received at Reading, his drug addiction to crack-cocaine that he now hopefully has under control, the fight against cancer which is at least in remission, or the inner torment concerning the parental love that he always craved but never received and the eleven children he fathered with ten different women as a distorted form of compensation for the missing affection. Each of these are compelling stories in themselves. It's a rollercoaster of a journey with some truly uplifting chapters as Canoville reaches middle age, and if Paul can contain the cancer and the drugs there will hopefully be some more illuminating chapters to follow. The matter of fact way his story unfolds makes for compulsive reading and it would surely make an excellent addition to the school curriculum reading list either as literature, sociology or citizenship.

It's the racism emanating from the Chelsea terraces that I wish to comment on here. As an armchair Chelsea fan I honestly didn't know! All those years of supporting the blues and I had no real understanding, other than a vague knowledge that football terraces harboured racist bigots who were easy fodder for NF recruiters. But the specifics of what Canoville had to endure needed to be told in all its ugly detail. If we are going to persist with our irrational allegiances to this or that football club then at the very least we should know exactly what it is we are buying into-warts and all.

 

The good news is that things have got better in English football. Of course racist and homophobic attitudes still persist right across all levels of English football but no longer to the institutional and endemic extent that it now occurs across large swaths of Europe. Whether we have been fully inoculated against this disease remains to be seen. As the economics situation deteriorates, expect a rise in little England bigotry. Nevertheless, things have moved in the right direction. While Canoville, being the first Black player to play for Chelsea, was jeered by his own supporters for the single crime of being Black, now it is not unusual for Chelsea and other top clubs to field a team with an overwhelmingly majority of Black players. Winning trophies seems to take priority over racial prejudice.

 

But what of the overall picture? Black referees? None. Black administrators? None. Black managers? A couple. Multi-national spectators? A slow improvement. Racism in non league football? A long way to go. And what about Asian representation? We have barely started. The official attitude to racism and other forms of bigotry? Definitely improving with the FA's, Lets Kick it Out campaign fairly active across all aspects of the game. What conclusions does Canoville draw about the situation today?

 

 

I've been to watch Chelsea games a few times in the last few years and was there at the Bridge for the Charlton game in September 2006. I witnessed the reception given to the great ex-Blue Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink by Chelsea fans. There was loud applause and they were singing his song when his name was read out. Then Jimmy scored against Chelsea. He actually looked apologetic, arms raised, no celebration. And in the stands? The whole Chelsea end stood and cheered him, and chanted this opposition black footballer's name again. That's how it should be, but it shows how different the game is now from my day. Canoville adds; 'I began to work a lot with the Kick It Out campaign to drive racism from football. You only have to see the abuse Chelsea's black players get now in Spain or when they're on England duty to see there's still a job to be done.

 

As for football so for sport generally.

 

End JPK 21/06/09

 

Last Updated ( Saturday, 26 May 2018 15:46 )