IF black lives truly matter to English football, then we clearly need a chairman of the Football Association who isn’t a bumbling duffer capable of stumbling into casual racism.
The game simply has to be governed by someone who doesn’t use offensive language and racial stereotyping.
So Greg Clarke had to go after embarrassing himself in a car-crash appearance before a committee of MPs yesterday. It was an absolute no-brainer.
He should have gone before now. In a previous session in front of the same Commons committee, Clarke referred to accusations of institutional racism as ‘fluff’.
This was a man behind the times. By several decades.
Clarke, 63, sounded like an ignorant pub bore rather than the head of an organisation supposedly desperate to improve diversity.
Yesterday, he referred to ‘coloured’ footballers – an offensive term, with connotations stemming from racial segregation in the United States.
Clarke would have been about 30 the last time you’d have been able to talk about ‘coloured’ people in polite conversation.
When prompted to withdraw the remark by MP Kevin Brennan, Clarke responded: “If I said it, I deeply apologise.”
Yet using the word ‘coloured’ to describe BAME people is either in your vocabulary or it isn’t. Clarke claimed he couldn’t even remember having used it.
It is the sort of language you might tell your old Nan off for using.
It is not a word you’d expect an MP to have to tell the chairman of the FA to apologise for at a time when players are uniting to highlight the need for combatting racism.
As Brennan said: “It is exactly the sort of language that means inclusion (in football) is not a reality.”
It took the FA a few hours to realise Clarke had to go – first they issued an apology on his behalf, while the chairman himself attempted to ring round FA councillors for support, which was not forthcoming.
Because it wasn’t as if using ‘coloured’ was a one-off. Clarke also meandered off into racial stereotyping, when he blurted: “If you go to the IT department of the FA there’s a lot more South Asians than there are Afro-Caribbeans. They have different career interests.”
So if black people don’t seem to fancy a career fixing your laptop, maybe they don’t fancy careers in football management or as club directors either, eh Greg?
Clarke, who was chairman of Leicester City when the club was plunged into administration in 2002, also claimed being gay was ‘a life choice’ and that ‘girls’ didn’t like balls being hit hard at them.
It seems pretty insulting to people in their 60s to suggest that Clarke is too old to know better than spouting this sort of guff.
Most in his generation wouldn’t toss around such lazy language in the pub, never mind when facing MPs.
With impressive, intelligent, campaigning young black footballers such as Raheem Sterling, Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho playing for England, it was unthinkable that the FA could continue to be governed by a man capable of such crass statements.
No one is suggesting Clarke is some hateful racist – he was condemning social media abuse of black players when he used his ‘coloured footballers’ remark. But that was never the issue.
English football could never be taken seriously on issues of diversity if led by a man so lacking in awareness.
It is not as if the head honchos of the FA have been a diverse bunch.
When the Jewish 66-year-old David Triesman quit as FA chairman in 2010, the Jewish 66-year-old David Bernstein overcame the Jewish 66-year-old David Dein to succeed him.
CLARKE’S OWN GOALS
THE now former FA chief has a put his foot in it several times before:
October 2017 – Comes under fierce criticism for referring to institutional racism as ‘fluff’ in front of the same parliamentary committee, forcing him into an apology.
October 2017 – Slammed by a victim of the paedophile football coach Barry Bennell and was accused of comparing him to a 'crying baby' in Parliament.
Clarke led the FA’s response to allegations of historical sexual abuse in football and was quizzed by MPs.
Controversially in his testimony to MPs, Clarke attacked the PFA for 'walking away' from abuse victims, and spoke of an abuse survivor 'crying like a baby' after they were refused money for counselling.
October 2017 – PFA chief Gordon Taylor threatens legal action against Clarke over his suggestion they failed to support the victim with further counselling
October 2020- Faced more pressure after his role in initiating secret talks over the Project Big Picture plans for the overhaul of the English game.
November 2020 – Resigns as FA chairman following a meeting with the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.
He stepped down after a fierce backlash after he referred to BAME footballers as ‘coloured people’ and suggested that ‘different career interests’ led South Asian people to choose careers in IT over sport.
Although since then they’ve moved on from 66-year-old Jewish Davids to appointing middle-aged white blokes called Greg – first Dyke, then Clarke.
Masterchef’s Gregg Wallace will be fancying his chances now.
But maybe the next FA chairman might not even be a white man – because there are some modern grown-ups in the building at Wembley who understand the need to look beyond such a narrow section of society.
Others in the organisation have done important work on tackling racism, including the ‘football leadership diversity code’ issued last month.
While taking the knee against racism has been a powerful gesture, there were fears that it would not lead to meaningful improvements in football.
Yet Clarke’s resignation suggests it might have genuine clout.
Black people, over-represented on the pitch, continue to be massively under-represented in football management and boardrooms.
That is because many of the people who run our game think, and speak, like Greg Clarke. And that is why he had to go.
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