Even as some news cycles move on, Tim Baker reminds us that it is important that we keep the floodlights switched-on over certain issues too big to be glossed over.
A lot has changed since our last match, a 0-0 draw at home to Barnoldswick Town. The pandemic ruined our promotion and title ambitions, and the daily life in general seemed to be changing unrecognisably. Entire nations isolated themselves in lockdown, social distancing cancelled many a summer plan, and we all had to endure a disturbing lack of toilet paper.
However, it is important to note that there are some aspects of life that pandemics haven’t changed.
I am talking of course about events in America where a Black man, George Floyd, was killed during an arrest. He was not the first, and he will not be the last, but this latest particular event led to a chain reaction whereby many who have found isolation a time for self- and social-awareness felt compelled to protest against the actions and far-reaching injustice of racism in our society.
Why am I writing about this in a non-league football fanzine for a NWCFL club you ask? Well…
Some stated that this was a problem mainly felt in America and that our country did not hold the same prejudices that our cousins across the pond did, but this was neatly disproved as far as I’m concerned during Monday Night Football on 22nd June 2020.
I was thrilled, like I’m sure many others were, to see the return of football to our screens after a lengthy absence during the lockdown, and there was no more powerful an image to me during this than seeing every player, substitution and official ‘take a knee’ on the referee’s whistle.
During Manchester City and Burnley’s protest, a plane with a banner of only four words was flown over the stadium. ‘White Lives Matter Burnley’. Only four words, but four words that disgust me.
To fly this message whilst everyone was taking a knee was deliberately provocative. There can be no other conclusion. It was a deliberate act, as depressing as it was calculated, that aired to the world and will forever serve as irrefutable proof that racism is as relevant an issue in our society as it is anywhere else in the world.
Not only that, but equally unforgivable to me is that it was done during a football match. To me, football and indeed all sport should always be treated as an arena of equality that actively stands against all forms of inequality and prejudice. Every man or woman who enters a field of play should be treated equally and fairly, as a means of maintaining sporting integrity as much as anything else, and sport should be a champion for the differences in our societies whilst also promoting acceptance of them.
To say ‘White Lives Matter’ during a time where people are condemning racial inequality is a redundant argument. As the widely publicised cartoon online has stated, it’s like asking a firefighter to put out a non-existent fire at your house whilst they should be fighting an actual fire across the street, because ‘my house matters too’. Our house isn’t on fire. There are no positives to distracting those who are trying to fight for the houses that are.
Another cartoon put it a different way, if someone has tripped and hurt their leg and you are asked to fetch help, it would be faintly ridiculous to cross your arms and ask ‘what about my legs?’ The message was never ‘Black Lives Matter At The Expense of White Ones’. The message was ‘Black Lives Matter Too’. It just doesn’t look as good on a banner.
To reduce it and paint it as a movement that is racist and anti-white is misleading and incorrect, either through ignorance or wilful deceit. It also shows a complete and unforgivable lack of understanding and empathy for how our neighbours and our brothers and sisters are feeling, and how their day to day lives can be. Sometimes the message isn’t about white people, and that’s okay. It shouldn’t be for white people to define whether or not there is a problem with racism. ‘Cartoon racists’ are rare, not being able to see any of them doesn’t mean racism isn’t happening in other subtler but equally damaging ways. Sometimes the message should be to just listen. Listen and offer support.
During last season, members of the Riff Raff contributed to a flag that all fans were encouraged to sign as an agreement, no, a promise, that all of those who don the Green and Black of our club either on the pitch or in the stands will be treated equally. A promise that all forms of prejudice and inequality are not welcome at our club or in our community.
If you have not signed our flag, I encourage you to do so when we are able to all meet up again, and join us in sending as big a message as we can. As may have said, it isn’t enough to be non-racist anymore, you have to be anti-racist. To send a message that this is not acceptable. Not here, not at our club, and not elsewhere either.
As fans of a ninth tier football club we are not in a position to solve racism overnight and we won’t pretend that we can. Nothing here is a quick fix. But in the midst of a pandemic that has plagued us for months now, perhaps we can find time to spend on understanding the effects of a pandemic that has been plaguing our planet for centuries.