Friday, 22 August 2014


A dictionary definition of 'banter': 'the playful and teasing exchange of friendly remarks'. If you are a footballer or a football fan then banter is part of the deal. As a Manchester United fan over the years I have enjoyed banter with many friends in the flesh and on-line. In recent years that has meant making fun of those who support teams like Liverpool (last season's slip when the Premiership was in sight) and Arsenal (who had gone nearly nine seasons without a trophy). Of course if you dish it out you have to be willing to take it and last season was a particularly painful one for me as MUFC crashed and burned under the management of David Moyes. Sometimes people don't get banter, for example a Liverpool supporter who I didn't know personally took exception to some comments I made about their team on Facebook. Lesson learnt, don't accept as friends on FB those you don't know and who don't know you and your sense of humour.

Earlier this week it was revealed that two former Cardiff City FC senior officials, the manager and the head of recruitment, had been accused of involvement in the exchange of offensive messages whilst at the club. They were both dismissed last season in acrimonious circumstances and during an investigation into their actions the messages had come to light. The content of some of the messages has been leaked to the press and are now doing the rounds in the media. The messages quoted are clearly racist, sexist and homophobic. In an extraordinary response to this news the League Managers Association issued a statement on behalf of the sacked manager and here is a quote from it:
In the course of a search by the Club in early 2014 of 10,000 private text messages sent to and from another member of staff during Mr Mackay’s employment at Cardiff, in relation to other matters, it emerged that Malky had, it seems, sent a couple of one line texts that were, with the benefit of hindsight, very regrettable and disrespectful of other cultures. These were two text messages sent in private at a time Malky felt under great pressure and when he was letting off steam to a friend during some friendly text message banter. That said, Malky believes he could and should have conducted himself better on these two isolated occasions.  The precise details need to remain private for the time being until any FA process is complete.
You can read the full statement here and it is no surprise that today the LMA has issued a follow up statement to clarify its initial statement following justifiable criticism for referring to the messages as 'friendly text message banter'. I find myself asking how anyone could have used the word banter in regard to these messages and I suspect the answer is that within football there is still a culture that regards such messages as just that, banter. However, these messages are not playful and teasing remarks between two friends, they are offensive remarks made about other people and have no place in the game.

The former Chelsea and England defender Graham Le Saux has written powerfully about the abuse he suffered as a player because he was thought by some to be gay. Le Saux named several players and cited specific incidents where these players had acted in a clearly homophobic way and then later sought to dismiss the incidents as banter, a joke, part of the game. Two of those mentioned by Le Saux, Robbie Fowler and Robbie Savage, have since gone on to be BBC football pundits and both have belatedly apologised for their treatment of Le Saux. However, even when making the apology there seemed to be a certain amount of denial about the continued presence of homophobia in the game, with both pundits claiming that it wouldn't be a problem for a player to 'come out' in a dressing room.

There are plenty of other examples of those involved in football mistaking sexism, racism and homophobia for banter. The former Sky commentators Andy Gray and Richard Keys were removed by the broadcaster following a series of revelations about their attitudes and off camera comments. However, they quickly found other work within the sports' broadcasting world. Why did these people feel that their remarks were acceptable within the world of sport? Presumably because this is the sort of language that is used within that particular environment on a regular basis and so people feel comfortable using it. And it is not just sport that has this problem as a quick glance at the number of apologies made by the BBC regarding the language used by a certain Top Gear presenter demonstrates.

So let's get this clear once and for all: It is not banter to make jokes about the colour of someone's skin or their ethnicity; it is not banter to make jokes about someone's sexuality and it is not banter to make jokes about someone's gender. The sooner football wakes up to this truth the better for all who care about the game.

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