It’s been a busy week for Emmanuel Adebayor. The Togolese Manchester City striker should be earning plaudits for the way he coolly dispatched his crucial goal for new club Manchester City against Arsenal, who he left to move to Middle Eastlands in the summer, and for making such a strong start for his new team, having scored in each of their first four Premier League matches. Instead, he is being widely condemned, primarily for sprinting the whole length of the City of Manchester Stadium pitch to taunt the travelling Arsenal fans after scoring, and also for apparently stamping on the face of former teammate Robin van Persie, whose allegations are backed up by video evidence during the match.
Let’s get this straight, both of those actions were very wrong. With the level of press fan trouble at football matches has been getting recently, and after Nottingham Forest’s Nathan Tyson was fined for antagonising the Derby fans after his side’s win two weeks ago, Adebayor was incredibly unprofessional to celebrate in the way that he did. He made a pathetic attempt at an apology post match, saying that he acted in the heat of the moment after scoring but for me this is about as realistic as Steve Simonsen’s hairline and his clear insincerity only makes things worse. As for his stamp on van Persie, though he’s a player we all might dream of giving a good slapping, to stamp on his face wearing metal-studded boots is not only tantamount to a despicable assault, it’s a gross violation of the code of mutual respect any professional footballer should have for any other. For me, Adebayor should be heavily punished. A steep fine for the celebration and a five game ban for the stamp seem justified.
That’s not the end of the matter though, or really the point of this article. Throughout the game, Adebayor was taunted by Arsenal fans, who made hugely offensive and derogatory chants about him, which display a racist attitude that hasn’t been acceptable in this country for the best part of a century. We’ve all heard the songs, so I won’t repeat them here, but to say that rather than crossing the line of acceptable football banter they skip across it, walk a mile, do their business, then stroll back across is no overstatement. I recognise that witty songs aimed to intimidate or mock opposing teams’ players are an integral part of the matchday experience for a large number of football fans, and have enjoyed many a chuckle at the cruel lyricism of the Stoke support, but these songs about Adebayor are far from that. They’re just plain, racially motivated, abuse and in as much have no place in football. In a way I can sympathise with Adebayor. If I heard someone signing about my parents what they do about his I’d want to do far more than slide on my knees in front of them.
The problem is, unlike the racist and homophobic abuse for which a man and a fourteen year-old boy were banned from attending football matches for three years this was not an isolated incident. Every week, wherever Adebayor is playing, these chants can be heard, on the terraces and coming through the TV screens. A lot of people seem to think they’re funny. They’re not. Still, no attempt is made to punish the offenders. What sort of message does that give to the young generation, perhaps getting into supporting a football team for the first time? It says that in our increasingly multi-cultural society racist abuse is acceptable or even amusing. As with all hooliganism, the FA and police need to make it clear that there is no safety in numbers. Even if it means hundreds of banning orders, they should look at the video evidence of the crowd and identify and ban those involved for five years, and repeat offenders for life. Unfortunately, I have no faith in the authorities to get anything like this done. They’re quite happy supporting “let’s kick racism out of football week”, but when it comes to a serious problem they make no attempt to fix it. That’s why we’ll have this issue for years to come. Adebayor is sure to get more and more abuse, not least on the back of this incident, and I’m sorry to say I’m fully anticipating hearing those songs coming loudly from the Boothen End when Manchester City visit the Britannia Stadium in January.