When the news broke back in August about Malky Mackay’s stream of sexist, racist and misogynistic text messages to his pal Iain Moody, my initial reaction was mixed. The messages and their tone were unbelievably appalling, and lifted the lid ever so slightly on a nasty undercurrent that, one suspects, is rife in football.
But, as is the duty of any fair man or woman (or journalist) I tried to look at it from both sides. “Let’s be honest,” I concluded, with an air of quiet regret “if you were to take the phones of the people around you – friends, acquaintances, work colleagues – how many wouldn’t have some kind of desperately nasty joke in there, whether they’re the sender or recipient?”
The Malky Mackay texts – the norm?
I still feel that way. At the time there were a stream of articles condemning Mackay, a man who ultimately got caught in a high-stakes game with a vindictive owner with a grudge and lost (or so we thought at the time, more on that later). But much of the condemnation felt forced. I was reluctant to buy it. How many of these writers were just writing what they think the public want to hear at any given moment?
How much of this supposed outrage was actually sincere? How many of these journalists bashing out pieces castigating Mackay really mean it? How do we know these talking heads furiously wagging fingers on air or on Twitter haven’t sent or received far worse in Whatsapp groups among friends in the last day, week or even month?
Rather than get too worked up about Mackay, I concluded there was no need. He’s been outed; the perception that this was a brave man fighting the nasty Mr Tan had been shattered and he’d lost out on a big job. The FA investigation will sort everything out. Trust the authorities. Move on.
Trust the authorities indeed.
“Passed the buck”
There is a quite poignant and at times harrowing chapter in Rio Ferdinand’s autobiography #2Sides in which he talks about the hell his family were put through during the Anton Ferdinand v John Terry racism furore of 2011, while the FA dragged their heels.
“Anton, the innocent party in all this, had his career damaged and was subjected to death threats, bullets in the post and unending racist abuse. My mum had her windows smashed and bullets put through her door, and ended up in hospital with a virus because of the stress.”
“We told the FA to deal with it quickly,” writes the former Manchester United and England defender. “It was absolutely obvious what had happened and the FA should’ve dealt with the situation before a complaint even came in. But the FA made it sound like it was the most complicated, difficult case they’d ever seen. And they passed the buck for almost a year.”
You might think that the FA would have learned something during the Luis Suarez and John Terry racism scandals that plagued the game for well over a year. Those cases scarred English football and “damaged race relations in this country” as Rio puts it, because the matters were allowed to fester, entrenching supporters in their views, creating division and a vacuum that caused great harm.
The date was August 20th when the Daily Mail revealed that Mackay and Moody had been reported to the FA. “The FA commits itself to the immediate investigation of any allegation of discrimination” it says clear as day on their website. Three months later and we’ve not heard a peep since.
During that time Mackay, who it turns out, didn’t lose at all, has been handed an olive branch by Dave Whelan and given the Wigan job. “He’s an honourable man,” Whelan offered, leaping to Mackay’s defence. The child that smeared crayon on the walls has been given a cake before his smacking.
The worst part of all this, to my mind, is not Mackay, Moody or their repulsive texts cloaked as ‘banter’. Some people genuinely find that kind of thing funny. Each to their own, I guess. The worst part of all this is the power structures that consistently and systematically uphold and defend the Mackays of this world, to the point where they end up being portrayed as the victim.
It happened with Luis Suarez, whose legendary ability to play the victim despite being the aggressor saw Liverpool wear t-shirts in support of their apparently wronged hero and only eventually condemn him when the Uruguayan refused to shake Patrice Evra’s hand. (Still, some defended Suarez and, armed with freeze-frame footage and a whole lot of hubris, tried to blame it on Evra).
How many times will The Guardian and Co. interview Suarez and allow him to ‘tell his side of the story‘ unchallenged, no matter how flagrantly he contradicts what is there written in black and white in the FA report?
It happened with John Terry, after which The Times ran a piece by Tony Evans saying there was no real harm in racism, and these lads were ‘just trying to unsettle their opponent’ – a ridiculously belittling and irresponsible stance from the football editor of a national newspaper. Can’t anyone even be just a little bit racist anymore to wind up their opponent?! It’s political correctness gone mad!
“A chance to redeem himself”
And now it’s happened again. Paul Wilson of The Guardian (again) was the first, writing a piece on the day of Mackay’s appointment at Wigan that the former Cardiff boss had ‘paid for his mistakes‘ (he hasn’t, the investigation is ongoing) and deserved ‘a chance to redeem himself’ – just three months after the very same Wilson wrote that football was ‘an industry that remains in the dark ages’ in a piece supposedly outraged at the levels of racism, sexism, antisemitism and homophobia on display.
Finally, Dave Whelan, champion of integrity, arises like a leaping seal above the Richard Keyses and Wilsons and banteristas of this world to offer Malky Mackay his way back into football.
Dave Whelan, in case you are wondering, is the Wigan owner who thinks numerous examples of sexism, racism and homophobia are fine (“I don’t think Mackay has done a lot wrong,” Whelan claimed after Mackay was announced Wigan manager, “It’s one small offence, one really small offence”) but who once described Mike Ashley as “having no class whatsoever” for the apparently abhorrent crime of “turning up in the boardroom in a pair of jeans, a pair of trainers and a replica shirt” and decided Liverpool trying to make a bit more money out of TV rights was “killing the heart and soul of English football.”
You may be appalled that your scouting shortlist has ‘not many white faces’ on it, you can absolutely call one of your own players a ‘f*cking chinky’ but don’t you ever turn up to a board meeting in jeans.
Take a look around at football today and it appears to be getting uglier and uglier. Luis Suarez, John Terry, Malky Mackay, Willy Sagnol, Ched Evans. It seems not a week passes by without another racism scandal somewhere in Europe.
The few willing to call out the hypocrisies and the inequalities and the all-round sewerage pervading football, meanwhile, are being drowned out by the endless stream of people desperate to support it. If you think for a second that there is no correlation between the ‘witty, harmless banter’ and the rank structural inequalities that plague our game, you’re wrong.
Football is a wonderful, magical game because it reflects society and brings people together in a way in which no other sport even comes close. But the beautiful game is getting ugly and every time an incident like this happens the same desperate pattern plays out.
The message is becoming increasingly clear: the people in positions of power either don’t know or don’t care enough to do anything about it.