by Chris Tobin

It’s been a difficult year for the country’s most popular pastime with racism once again at the forefront of the English game. I sat down with Kick It Out ambassador and PFA Chairman Clarke Carlisle to discuss the state of the game, the Olympics and Queens Park Rangers fans song to celebrate Britain’s brainiest footballer.

Has your household been taken over with the Olympics? Which particular sports are you/did you enjoying the most?

Our “Olympic Fever” had run out before the opening ceremony! The build-up was so prolonged that we just wanted it done. But now it’s actually here, it has not been off the TV! It’s great to see excellence in anything, and these guys are giving us a great display of physical prowess. The gymnasts have impressed me, their strength is phenomenal. The most impressive for me was the archery. Hitting a bullseye barely two inches in diameter from the width of a football stadium’s distance is truly outstanding.

Have you taken an interest in the Women’s football? What sort of legacy would you hope to have gained from this for ladies football in the U.K.?

It’s very hard to gauge any impact as it is completely hypothetical. The hope is that many sceptics’ eyes have been opened to the skill, intensity and competition levels of women’s football. What may work against the game is the fact that the Olympics leads straight into the men’s season, while the women wait until next year for the super league to return to action. This delay could see the initial attention dwindle with a lack of action.

Were you disappointed along with some football fans to hear the booing of both Craig Bellamy & Luis Suarez firstly at Old Trafford and also in Cardiff when some supporters booed during the National anthem of Uruguay?

Taken what the games represent in terms of sporting behaviour – No individual athlete would be booed in any other event?

Very disappointed. There is a tribalism in football that just can’t be broken down it seems. Under the banner of Team GB, you would hope that club loyalties would be put to one side for a common goal. The feeling is compounded when, like you rightly say, it doesn’t happen in the other sports in the games. There is a competitive and professional respect that sees the efforts of all competitors applauded, but not in football. This is something that I would hope we can address in the future.

Do you think that football as our national game may have lost some future recruits to some of the other amazing sports within the games? That may have lit flames within youngsters within the country that may never have thought about those particular sports?

Not at all. I actually think it will increase the number of participants in all sports. There will be a number of people encouraged to participate that may never have previously enjoyed or been inspired to play sports, thus creating a fitter generation and increasing levels of competition. It will also help us as an industry. The figures show that less than 1% of lads in the game at 16 are still in the game at 21, a vast dropout rate. If you factor into that the number of kids in the game at 12-16, it is a huge number. The fact that these young men and women may be inspired to try another sport and utilise their abilities is only a good thing.

Some have debated how some so called elitist sports are not just lacking people of colour but also working class sports men & women. How do you thing we can try and address this for future games?

It’s very hard to remedy this. The sad fact is that these sports are labelled elitist because they are expensive. There is no way around this. To be a jockey, you need a horse. To be a marksman, you need a gun, with license and licensed premises on which to shoot. These are non-negotiable and, unfortunately, virtually impossible to bring to the masses.

When you were growing up Clarke which sports other than football did you excel in? Were you encouraged to have a belief that you could be capable of achieving in whatever you personally decided to participate in?

I loved all sports. I played football, rugby, cricket, basketball, badminton, and athletics, anything I could! I would say I was competitive at most, but only excelled at football and rugby. That positive encouragement is actually how my parents raised me, that I could be successful in anything, as long as I worked hard enough for it.

Do you think the pressure on young people whether from within inner city boroughs or from middle class backgrounds have in some way allowed them to turn their backs on sport, whilst being much more comfortable within music and other computer based hobbies? How do we get these kids back to playing fields, when most have been sold off or replaced?

Wow, this is such a multi-faceted question I don’t think we have the time! The government need to re-emphasise the importance of sport, increasing the “minimum” requirement of two hours per week to a statutory requirement of at least double that. It’s true that physical sports face competition from modern computers, but the two don’t have to be mutually exclusive. Parents setting boundaries, time sections for each, is a start. Also, the modern generation of youth needs to be inspired. Role models need to be mass approved, and the success of these athletes at London 2012 could be the basis of that. It will once again be “cool” to be athletic and competitive with it.

After your programme on “Is Football Racist?” what was the feedback like? I amongst others found it quite refreshing that you were prepared to converse with people through social media, going as far as giving people your email to address such issues?

The feedback was phenomenal and off the scale in the context of numbers! It wasn’t just people in agreement either, which showed me that we achieved our aim. There is a real reticence to speak about the issue of racism for fear of being branded either militant or racist if you have a view that is slightly left or right of “politically correct”. This has to change. How can we address an issue if we don’t know the true extent of people’s experiences and opinions? Giving people a freedom and a platform to do that has instigated conversations and discussions that will hopefully enable us to get a grip of the reality of the situation. With this we can actually make informed and positive strides forward on the issue. As for lending myself up on Twitter, I really believe that this has been the missing link between supporters and the modern day footballer. Communication lines had diminished somewhat since the introduction of ‘celebrity’, Premier League and PL wages. Twitter is a great tool to redress the balance. Giving a format where players and fans can interact under no obligation and, hopefully, in an ingesting and respectful way.

The question regarding football was asked Clarke “Is Football racist?” Well is it in your opinion?

Football is an industry that is leading the anti-racism campaigns and initiatives of our generation. It has helped the sport make great strides from the 70’s and 80’s where abhorrent behaviour was endemic. The program showed that there are still areas of the game where more work and improvement can be made. Football is reflective of society, not aside from it. There are still people in society who harbour prejudicial views, and so there will be people within football who do too. That, however, doesn’t prevent us from leading the way in our works and initiatives.

If we compare football as a participation sport against other sports – surely the answer is that football is not racist, but society at times can be assumed to hold racist views or language? Are football supporters anymore racist than those who watch mainly white dominated sports Polo, Show Jumping, Rowing and Shooting to give a few examples.

The idea of the show was to look beyond just verbal abuse on the pitch or in the terraces. Racism is such an amorphous issue that it could never be covered comprehensively in one hour. We could, however, open people’s eyes to facets of the issue that they may not have thought about before, like Asian football, Anti-Semitism etc., and others we didn’t have time to broach, but have brought up in interviews subsequently, like minority to majority abuse, minority to minority abuse, xenophobia, sectarianism and many more.

Understandably it becomes difficult for the chairman of the PFA to personally comment upon members – But have you or do you intend to instruct members about future behaviour? Indeed how they can help themselves by their own conduct on and off the field?

We do this every year with PFA execs who visit every club before the start of the season. We will be increasing the number of visits this year, and extending the topics covered so that all are aware, with zero ambiguity, what is expected of them this season.

Do you think the “Kick It Out” campaign for which you are an ambassador has been harmed by the recent racism rows and debates within football itself and from supporters? In respect that the media jumped in and it was front page news for a few weeks as it remained flavour, but now it seems the whole thing has become boring- with no TV news coverage of John Terry being charged by the FA or Rio Ferdinand?

There is a lot of talk about how guilty or not guilty judgements will impact the KIO initiative, but this is just not true. No matter what the outcome of any case, the message is that all alleged offences are taken seriously, investigated and brought to a conclusion via due process. This should encourage people that the campaigns are working, that things will be done and that society is moving forward on this issue.

Whilst on the subject of Kick Racism Out – why do you feel other sports have felt it unnecessary to have similar campaigns within their sports?

Not at all. There are many cross sport initiatives on anti-discrimination, it is just that football is the foremost sport in the world, never mind our country.

Do you think that football gives enough back to grass-roots football and projects? When the support it gets from those areas are fundamental to the constant progress of the game.

Football gives a fantastic amount back to grass roots, but how do you ever calculate if it’s enough? There are always areas that will need investment, further support and guidance, and the industry will endeavour to meet these needs. More can always be done, even though a lot is already in motion.

When you won the accolade of Britain’s brainiest footballer, what type of stick did you receive in the changing rooms?

Not too much really. I was injured at the time and the show was pre-recorded. After it was aired then I had a chant from the QPR fans that went:

“Carlisle, is a genius” to the tune of (Pet Shop Boys) – Go West!

Brilliant. If “Britain’s Brainiest Footballer” could change one rule from the Football rule book which would it be & how do you think that could improve the game?

Away goals count after 90 minutes in the league cup semi-final……not that I’m bitter!!

Clarke, I guess you must have been incredibly proud of both your mother & father who appeared in the documentary “Is Football Racist?” particularly your father who came across fantastically well – has he become somewhat of a celebrity now? How did he feel on watching that back? And indeed how did you feel?

Dad has received so many complimentary messages, not only about his youthful looks (!!) but about how well he came across and what a great man he is. Each time I see that section it brings me to tears. That was a really intimate moment, very real and ground-breaking for my dad, and for us as father and son.

What does the future hold for Clarke Carlisle?

I don’t have a crystal ball, but I do retain the belief that I will be successful in whatever I do, as long as I work hard enough!


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