From the terraces to the sofa: social media’s role as new conduit for racism concerns Clyde Best
The fans may be missing from the football stadiums throughout Britain, but racism still exists...with fans now using social media to abuse players.
An Irish teenager is due to be sentenced today for sending racist abuse on social media to Ian Wright, the former Arsenal and England striker, who is now a football pundit.
Racism from fans at English football has been an issue for more than 50 years, since Bermudian Clyde Best first went to West Ham United in 1968 and was subjected to chants from the terraces as one of the first Black players in the Football League after breaking into the first team in 1969. In the early 1970s, he played with other Black players, Clive Charles and Ade Coker, at West Ham.
Best, who still follows the English games, as do thousands of Bermudians, finds it astonishing that little progress seems to have been made, with racism from fans back in the news again even though grounds have been largely empty this season because of the Covid pandemic.
“Social media is good but can be damaging, too,” Best said yesterday. “With people not being in the stands they are taking it upon themselves to use social media to put out racial things about players.
“It’s a shame that it is still happening and I just hope and pray one day we’re going to be man enough about this sort of stuff and get rid of it. As I always tell people, the ball doesn’t have eyes and care about what colour you are, as long as you can play.
“This game doesn’t belong to one race of people; it belongs to everyone, that’s why Pelé calls it the greatest game on earth. The people that they find who are like that, they need to ban them from the game completely. In this day and age, it shouldn’t be going on.”
Best is regarded as a trailblazer, with many Black footballers who followed him into the game acknowledging him their hero for knocking down barriers.
“It happened to me 50 years ago, I was by myself, so you can imagine what it felt like for me then,” said Best, who turns 70 this month. “These guys today have four, five and six other players on their team and they can get help.
“I don’t have a problem with a player who says ’I’ve had enough, I’m walking off’. That might be a way of making people understand that you cannot continue to do this sort of stuff in this day and age, especially with what going on in the world with the pandemic.”
In an article on the BBC website, pressure is being put on social-media outlets to address the issue, although tech companies are saying that tackling the problem is not as straightforward as many assume.
League officials felt hampered by what they called “impregnable and unresponsive tech companies using privacy, freedom of speech and the volume of traffic” as excuses for not handing over information to help identify offenders.
Writing on social media, Prince William, the Duke of Cambridge, who is also the president of the Football Association, spoke of the need for social-media companies to raise their game and take more responsibility.
“We all have a responsibility to create an environment where such abuse is not tolerated and those who choose to spread hate and division are held accountable for their actions,” he stated.
“That responsibility extends to the platforms where so much of this activity now takes place.”
The Professional Footballers Association has asked the tech companies to prevent users from being able to post racists comments.
“While racist abuse is allowed to continue on each platform, we can only conclude that it is a choice by the companies running the social networks,” it said.
In the last week, Reece James, the Chelsea full back, received an abusive message on Instagram, while West Bromwich Albion contacted the police over an alleged racist message sent to midfielder Romaine Sawyers. who hails from St Kitts and Nevis. A 49-year-old man has been arrested.
Manchester United pair Axel Tuanzebe and Anthony Martial were racially abused on social media after last week’s home defeat by Sheffield United.
Facebook, which owns Instagram, replied with a short statement to a request for an interview by BBC last week: “There is no place for racism on Instagram and we are committed to removing it when we find it. We know there is more to do and we will continue to work closely with clubs, players and football authorities to investigate instances of discrimination and collectively tackle this issue.”
Twitter said in a statement: “Racist behaviour has no place on our service and when we identify accounts that violate any of the Twitter rules, we take enforcement action.
“We have proactively engaged and continue to collaborate with our valued partners in football to identify ways to tackle this issue collectively and will continue to play our part in curbing this unacceptable behaviour, both online and offline.”
Best, who played 221 games for West Ham and scored 58 goals between 1968 and 1976. Loyal to the Hammers, he chose not to play for another English club, leaving to play in the North American Soccer League, first with the Tampa Bay Rowdies.
Best, who played with some of the best English players at West Ham at the time, such as Bobby Moore, the England captain, Martin Peters, Geoff Hurst, Billy Bonds, Harry Redknapp and Trevor Brooking, still has many admirers there.
Black players who followed him into the league, such as Viv Anderson, Cyrille Regis, Luther Blissett and John Barnes, credit Best for being an influence on their careers.
“I tell people all the time, if you take two babies and put them in a crib, they don’t look at one another and start fighting, they help one another,” said Best, who spoke of his experiences in England in his autobiography, The Acid Test, which was published in 2016. He also played a season in the Netherlands with Feyenoord.
“Racism is a learnt behaviour, it’s not something you are born with. It comes from what you heard around the dinner table, what you’ve heard from friends or what you’ve read on social media.
“I can’t believe in 2021 we’re still talking about racism that happened even before me. You can imagine what players like Pelé and Eusebio had to go through.”
Best added: “Just imagine if you took all the foreign out of England right now, what would happen to the league? I’ve seen some wonderful players come into England from abroad.
“I just hope before I go to my grave that we can go and have a game of football and not have to come face-to-face with racism.”