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The Pain of the Beautiful Game

The Pain of the Beautiful Game

Issue 6 Jun / Jul 2004

First Published on July/August 2004

To access the issue page, click here  


Photography by Taus Makhacheva & Omair Barkatulla


Football is the world’s game. Played across countries by a multitude of nationalities and cultures, any major football championship is eagerly followed by global audiences. A win means ecstatic euphoria for someand is greeted with utter devastation by others. The ups and downs of a match inevitably entails a rollercoaster of emotions for the keen football fan– the despair of fumbled passes and missed penalties; the joy of a player’s perfect artistry on the pitch. Football is a passion, and no less so than for Muslims in England as the drama of the 2004 European Championships unfolded. When England went out in the quarter finals against host country Portugal, the pain of the beautiful game resonated across the English Isle and beyond.


The game of football is characterised by the devotion of its fans, however this has been blighted over the years by incidences of hooliganism, anti-social behaviour and the hurling of racist abuse before, during and after matches. Such a tainted image is widely considered to be a problem in English football and as a result families have tended to stay away.

This climate is changing however as the Football Association and other national football bodies have been making a concerted effort to ensure that the experience of coming to watch a football match should be an enjoyable experience for all football fans regardless of age, sex or ethnicity. Various initiatives have been employed to tackle racism at football matches. In March 2003 The FA hosted the UEFA conference ‘Unite Against Racism’. This was held at Chelsea’s Stamford Bridge ground with over 50 countries represented. Europe’s top clubs were united in their condemnation of racism and determination to promote common solutions across the continent. The delegates heard from Gerhard Eigner, the UEFA Chief Executive and Piara Power from Kick It Out, an organisation established by the Commission for RacialEquality and the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA) in 1993. Such endeavours have been mirrored by English clubs. For example,Charlton Athletic has been universally applauded for its commitment to stamp out racism through their Charlton Athletic Race Equality Partnership which employs outreach workers to use football to teach anti racist education. This positive approach is a reason England is nowfinally considered to be leading the way in fighting racism in football.

The next step is for Muslim football players to break into the national arena. Even though football is enthusiastically played by many Muslim youngsters, there are few in the professional game to provide role models. The FA has looked into this anomaly and came to the conclusion that those in positions of responsibility at clubs were not engaging with the potential of Muslim youngsters. As a result various projects were mobilised to encourage participation. The Leicester Asian Sports Initiative (LASI) was established to offer coaching to Asian youngsters, with the most talented referred to the Leicester City Academy. Charlton Athletic linked up with Asian clubs and launched, in conjunction with Sport England, a major scheme to work with the local Asian community.

These efforts are a testament to the attempts by those within the footballing establishment and the wider community to make football a vastly more accessible experience for all. Examples of the fruits of these endeavours were noticed in Portugal. Leon Mann of the Kick It Out Campaign recalls, “The first fans I saw were a group of 10 to 15 Asian lads who were draped in the flag of St George.” This symbolic sight is met with great optimism by Leon, “We’re not there yet, but there’s a definite increase since Euro 2000 and black and Asian fans are being encouraged to get involved in a mass way.”  


If you witness or experience racism at a football match contact the Kick It Out hotline on 0800 169 9414



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