The year is 2020; it is 187 years since Britain abolished slavery; 57 years since Martin Luther King had a dream and roughly 6 months since George Floyd could not breathe due to a police officer kneeling on his neck. Racism is systemic, institutional and still prevalent across the world. The horrific murder of George Floyd was filmed and it spread across the internet, causing another wave of black lives matter protests; but this was not the start of BLM. The movement actually began in 2013, after George Zimmerman was acquitted for the shooting of African-American teenager, Trayvon Martin. It then gained national recognition in 2014 after another young black man, this time named Michael Brown, was fatally shot by the Police in Ferguson. This time, it sparked big protests across America.
It was this combination of institutional racism and police brutality that led Colin Kaepernick, a quarterback for the 49ers to kneel during the US national anthem in 2016. This protest was met with outrage by the likes of Donald Trump, with many people deciding that a black man kneeling during a song was more upsetting than 100’s of years of racial injustice. Of course, they aren’t racist (or so they say), they just wanted to respect the national anthem and… keep politics out of football. To this day, he no longer has a contract in the NFL, a league run by rich, often conservative, businessmen; but of course, this is not political, and the right of a black person to not be murdered by a police officer, is.
The point of this aside about the roots of black lives matter is simple; this movement has been around for 7 years and racism has been around for centuries. It takes less than 5 minutes to google ‘black lives matter’, to read the first few lines of a Wikipedia page and to find out that this is a movement advocating against racism, and in particular, racially motivated police violence. Yes, some localized organizations were then founded and different groups have different goals, like ‘defund the police’. If the police in your country killed people who look like you 6x more than they killed people who did not, you would probably want to reduce their funding too. However, these organizations are decentralized, and are distinct from the movement. Their is no central leadership and their goals are not tied to the movement. Standing against the movement because you do not like one of the organizations is like being against all charity work because Christian aid exist and you are not Christian. The position is nonsensical and it is a revealingly weak excuse.
Premier League footballers, as we all know, were supporting the movement, which is about racial equality. We know this because the players themselves told us that this is why they kneel, multiple times. Therefore, when you want players to stop kneeling, when you boo them for kneeling, or when you justify those who did boo, you are standing against racial equality. There are no ifs and buts, and the excuses are even more poor. I have no time for anybody claiming it is a marxist organization and is making football political; here is why:
The decision to stand against somebody protesting racism is not a small one. Everybody booing a black player whilst he kneels, within a year of George Floyd being murdered by a police officer kneeling knows how serious that action is. If I found myself opposing something literally called black lives matter then I would want incredibly strong reasons to do so. I would have agonized over why I opposed said thing and what form this opposition should take – actively, privately, vocally etc. I would spend a lot of time doing this before coming to an opinion because to me, black lives do matter and I understand the history of institutional racism. My conclusion is simple, anybody who cares about racial equality would not oppose a campaign called black lives matter, without researching it in depth and anybody who does this, would not oppose it with nonsense about Marxism or politics.
This article has already completely eliminated the fiction that BLM is a political (possibly even Marxist) organization. It takes less than 5 minutes to research this deliberately false conception and invalidate that argument, it did not even take a single hour to write that section. If you are happy to attack a protest literally called ‘black lives matter’, without doing a single google search, then it is very obvious that your problem is not with the politics, the Marxism or the football – you have an issue with black lives mattering and you jumped at the first excuse to attack the idea they do.
136 Premier League matches have been played since the players began to kneel for roughly 5 seconds prior to kicking off. This is just over 11 minutes of your time; more than twice what you would need to research the kneeling and to understand that it is not Marxist or about a political organization. If you have not done this yet still choose to stand against Black Lives Matter then you are making a choice to oppose racial equality. If you oppose racial equality then you are a racist, why am I needing to explain this?
So then comes the argument of escapism, with the idea that football is a chance to escape political differences and band together. I have made friends with people on the other side of the political spectrum through football and Aston Villa, football remains political because everything is. I wrote an article on this after fans began to be ripped off by PPV and it exposes the mistake fans have made – read it here.
Anyway, here is the problem with that position:
1: Racism exists within football – black players are racially abused by fans and fellow players; we had 13 hate crimes at Villa Park just last year – a league record not to be proud of. Yet many seem more angry at the players standing against racism, than those quite literally being racist. If you have more of a problem with anti-racism in football than racism, I do not need to spell out what you are.
2: Even if you believe that football is not political because you see politics as a more binary thing than I do, then the same logic must mean that standing against racism is not political. If anti-racism is not political, then neither is the movement of BLM, so politics has not been brought into football.
3: Racism still exists, 187 years after we abolished slavery. It is institutional and increasingly present in our society. If your argument against politics in football is one of tradition, then perhaps its time to consider that racism is quite literally another western tradition and change may be what’s needed to help eradicate it.
4: Football already is political. The vast majority are happy for all players to wear a poppy (something I have the utmost respect for) in order to honor those who died in a war. I hate to say it but war is about as political as anything, so politics is already in football and you had no problem with this. Yet it suddenly becomes a problem when ‘black lives matter’. This makes it very obvious that your problem is not with political gestures.
5: Even if for some reason you do not like the movement, booing a black person being brave and using their platform to kneel for what they believe in betrays a very real lack of empathy with those facing discrimination. It is not enough to not be racist, being anything but anti-racism makes you complicit in its systemic nature.
Ultimately, my main anguish with this ‘I don’t want them kneeling because we need to keep politics out of football’ excuse is the deliberate invention of it. The same thing happened to civil rights movements in the 1960’s, as the entire struggle against racism became increasingly tied to the black panthers, with many finding their politics a very convenient excuse not to support the wider changes of the era. Once again, Marxism was a buzzword and masses of people who did not even bother to research or understand Marxism, were gripped by a misplaced fear and anger. It is very apparent that outlets like Guido and The Spectator saw the BLM protests and deployed the exact same smear tactics; deliberately blurring the key distinction of movement and organization to make ordinary people oppose a movement with a slogan as uncontroversial as ‘black lives matter’. Whether it be Marxism or all lives mattering, these grievances with the movement are so pathetically transparent and even those making them know they are not meaningful. Nobody seriously believes that the Millwall fans booing even begin to have researched Marxism. I have a degree in history, I took multiple modules on it and still it remains an incredibly complicated and confusing term. Anybody who understands the meaning of Marxism, would not be able to boo a campaign against racial equality based on it. And, anybody who cares about racism would not boo players kneeling before researching it.
This paradox presents a simple answer – the fans who booed are racist.
However, the most flawed argument I have seen spread across social media like a wildfire is that of time. How long can we continue to do this for? Does it lose its meaning over time?
What a steaming pile of horse****.
As I stated at the start of this article, institutional racism has existed for well over 100 years and has not lost its power over time. 52 years after Martin Luther King was assassinated, George Floyd was murdered by a police officer. If you are trying to think of an excuse not to support a movement for racial equality, time really, really, really is not the line you think it is.
The Millwall fans booing only further revealed the importance of players taking the knee, and the continued existence of racism in both society and football. They should all be banned for life.
This leads me onto my final question:
Why don’t we want to use football to help improve society?
This sport is incredibly powerful and brings us together. If we stopped hiding behind ‘politics’ and instead started acting with compassion, empathy and humanity, we could make a fundamental improvement to the world. We could make everyone feel welcome in our stadiums and give them the confidence to feel afe and at home in wider society. Surely not doing everything within our power to allow EVERYONE to enjoy football is itself a political act, and a negative one for our beautiful game.
I was inspired by Sam Timms, the founder of the incredible Villa and Proud. He invited HeartofTheHolte to a Villa and Proud event, and I decided to attend on behalf of the page, because having a platform comes with responsibility and I wanted to learn. At this event, he explained the importance of allies in the fight against discrimination, and was utterly compelling in his passion about how football is the most powerful tool we have to improve society. He is not political, he is not trying to make football political, he is just trying to make football accessible to more people and to increase the pride we all feel to be Villa fans. Villa and Proud now have over 300 members, as they continue to use Aston Villa football club to empower fellow fans and make them feel welcome. I consider it an honor to be an ally and urge others to sign up and support the fight against all forms of discrimination. People like Sam make me incredibly proud to be a Villa fan; people like those at the Millwall game make me incredibly ashamed to be a football fan.
Another fine example of a grassroots initiative trying to make football more inclusive is VillansTogether which is ran by the brilliant Nilesh, who I met at the same Villa and Proud meeting which inspired me to become an ally. Both of these obsessive Aston Villa fans are proof that football can be a medium for change and that is can be used to help the ordinary day to day lives of people far more than it does. We all know that change is not going to come from the top, yet many who complain about ‘virtue signalling’ slogans and campaigns do not do anything to promote change themselves. Racists, homophobes and others who discriminate go out of there way to make many feel less welcome at football games, we need to do more to make everyone apart from the oppressors feel welcome. Millwall bowing down to the racists and announcing they would stop kneeling was a disgrace, because they let the racists win. They did not kick out the racism or the racists, they kicked out the anti-racist protest. As Villa fans, we should all want to make sure our club is better than this.
It’s time we stopped slightly stepping around the matter for fear of offence or of change. It is not nice to consider that a large amount of football fans might be racists, but if you stand against racial equality or any real change on such pathetic excuses, then that is what you are. The real victim here is not the fan banned for life for booing or the fan labelled a racist, the victims are those facing discrimination whilst we fearfully quiver at the idea of bringing politics into football.
You are either against oppression or complicit in it; be an ally and fight it.
By Callum Richardson