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From The Socialist newspaper, 26 October 2016

Non-fiction: Pitch Black

Fighting racism in football

Marching against racism, photo by Paul Mattsson

Marching against racism, photo by Paul Mattsson   (Click to enlarge)

Tony Aitman

Raph Parkinson's letter in the Socialist issue 920 on racism in football highlights an issue which has sadly been long present in the game. A recent book by Emy Onuora - 'Pitch Black: the story of black British footballers' - looks at the history of racism in football, and the effect this has had on the footballers themselves.

There are other books which deal with this, but what sets this book apart from the rest is the detail, the passion Emy clearly has for football, and his socialist perspective. Emy was an active supporter of Militant, the Socialist Party's predecessor, and Liverpool City Council in its epic battle with the Tory government in the 1970s and 80s. This outlook continues to inform his ideas.

Anyone in Liverpool will tell you I am not the greatest fan of football. 50 years ago I went to my only football match - I know England beat Mexico, but by how many goals and who scored I could not say for the life of me. Yet this book had me engrossed from start to finish.

Pitch Black is a tour de force. From the days when racism overtly showed its ugly face with the throwing of bananas onto the pitch, with greater shows of violence in reserve, to the days when it is hidden in the boardrooms and hospitality suites.

It includes interviews with over 20 current and former players such as John Barnes, Viv Anderson and Cyrille Regis. Pitch Black critically and controversially scrutinises the attitudes of Fifa, the FA and the media over the last half-century. It allows today's generation of footballers and fans to discover the history of the world's most popular sport.

Pitch Black does not confine itself to just events in the UK, but looks at wider implications, such as the infamous South Africa tour of 1982. This revealed the disgraceful roles of the likes of Jimmy Hill and Brian Clough.

Clough, explains Emy, had been one of the original signatories to the formation of a national anti-racist campaign. But he was prepared to compromise his principles when it came to money, which meant appeasing the racist apartheid regime in South Africa at the time.

Pitch Black is an important book for football fans and anyone interested in the struggle against racism. As Emy says: "football reflects society and within society as a whole, racism persists."

The fight against racism in football is integrally linked to the fight to change society. An understanding of its history is vital to anyone involved in that struggle.

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In The Socialist 26 October 2016:

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Socialist Party comments and reviews

Book review: Fighting racism in football

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