Thursday, November 18, 2004

Different cultures, different perceptions. Some observations on the clash last night between England and Spain:-

While the UK media regard the main issue as the racism displayed both before and during the game - by the trainer and the crowd respectively - this is a non-issue for 90% of their Spanish counterparts. The main take for them was the abject performance of the England team and the clear superiority of the Spanish eleven. The main subordinate issue was the madness of Rooney. Indeed, one paper went so far as to award the highest performance marks to the English trainer for taking Rooney off before he self-combusted.

One reason for this dichotomy is that the [rather more serious] Spanish media despise the UK tabloid press and regard any issue of importance to them as ‘sensationalist’. Their gut instinct is to reject it out of hand. One feels some sympathy for this, generally speaking.

Another, rather more serious, reason is that Spain appears to be now where the UK was about 30 years ago in terms of attitude to racial taunts and empathy with their effect. Here, a very acceptable defence to any suggestion of insult runs along the lines of – “It was all in good humour. I didn’t mean to hurt anyone. Don’t get upset….. Now you’re being hypersensitive and obsessive”. This helps to explain why both the Spanish trainer and the local media can’t understand why anyone reacted to him calling Henry “a shit of a nigger’. And why they were even more nonplussed about the entire UK media dismissing him as beyond the pale for later saying ‘I have black players round to dinner. They tell me there is racism in the UK whereas there is none here. And I know how the British treated people in their colonies.” As far as almost everyone in Spain is concerned, it was more than enough for him to say “Hey, it was all a bit of joke about Henry, to motivate my players. Let’s forget about it”. So, to keep on asking him questions smacks of a vicious witch hunt.

With the honourable exception of the left-of-centre El Pais, none of the national or local papers reported or commented on the disgraceful monkey-chanting of last night’s match. However, all the papers did report that the UK Football Association had formally complained to the international football authorities about the same thing at the previous night’s match between the junior teams. This was too much for both the ‘Presidents’ of the two stadiums, each of whom denied that there had been any racist chanting at all. Maybe they will change their mind when they listen to the soundtrack of the games. Or perhaps their lawyers have told them that making monkey grunts every time a black player touches the ball doesn’t technically qualify as racist chanting, unless a monkey is the claimant.

To bring this sad blog to a close, perhaps the wisest thing said about the affair was that both the dire quality of English football and the appalling behaviour of the Spanish fans should ensure that it will be a long, long time before they play each other in another ‘friendly’ match.

And for such small mercies, O Lord, we are eternally grateful. Whichever country you come from, it was truly a night of shame. How ironic that this is a tabloid cliché.

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