Racism

14th September 2001 at 01:00
SHOW RACISM THE RED CARD. CD-Rom and video, pound;15 from Show Racism the Red Card, PO Box 141, Whitley Bay, Tyne and Wear, NE26 3YH

MY ENGLAND. Video and teacher's notes. pound;39.95. Carel Press, 4 Hewson St, Carlisle CA2 5AU

League football in Britain has seen many changes over the past few years, but few are as welcome as the shift in spectator attitudes towards non-white players. While concerted abuse was common only a few years ago, today such behaviour is relatively rare. For this, any of several local and national anti-racist initiatives should take much credit.

The latest video, plus a useful first CD-Rom from Show Racism the Red Card, demonstrates why this particular campaign has been especially effective. CD-Rom and video feature star footballers and managers condemning racist behaviour within football and outside it. Less an appeal than an injunction - "Show racism the red card" being the constant refrain - the declarations are salted with personal, often painful reminiscences from men many youngsters regard almost as gods.

For example, Brian Deane's recollection of being called a "black bastard" by a white adult when just 14 is as moving for its honesty - "It really scares you because you wonder what's coming next" - as for its implications: "If someone can have that much hatred for just a young kid, it's frightening. You have to think what kind of views they are going to be passing on to their kids."

Equally candid, Rio Ferdinand and Ian Wright recall their distress when in a crowd that was taunting black soccer players. For Kieron Dyer, the biggest hurt comes from knowing his family witnesses such baiting.

These and other such admissions are the strongest elements of a package that will help youngsters to acknowledge that racism in football is but one aspect of a much greater social problem.

Though it shares the same goal, the My England video adopts a dramatic rather than a documentary approach. Bookended by addresses from Neville Lawrence, father of the murdered black student Stephen Lawrence, this short but powerful play examines an encounter between two England supporters who have been ejected from an international match. Ant is white, working-class and extravagantly bigoted; Tony is black, educated and articulate. Keeping them apart is a policewoman, Laura.

My England is sure to arouse students to productive debate. Like Ant's repeated, ritualistic chanting, the often venomous, sometimes crude exchanges between the two men - on prejudice, nationality, patriotism, privilege and history - ring uncomfortably true. The killing of Stephen Lawrence shows that, for some, violent language signifies nothing less than genuinely lethal intent.

Seated inches from the cast, Neville Lawrence ponders the drama. His closing references to his son's martyrdom are as moving as Ant's numbskull notions are maddening. This is a play that will provoke, affect and, when used with the excellent teacher's notes, teach that sport is far from being the only arena where we need greater tolerance.

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