A rare chance for football to keep the moral high ground | Blaise Tapp

Football fans with memories long enough will remember Jimmy Greaves’ popular refrain: ‘It’s a funny old game’, from the Saturday lunchtime programme he hosted with Ian St John in the 1980s and early ’90s.

Wednesday, 5th May 2021, 9:40 am
English football teams had a social media blackout last weekend. Picture: Yui Mok/PA Wire

Never has this hackneyed expression carried greater meaning than it does now, following a week or two football fans are unlikely to ever forget.

Although the sordid European Super League proposal showed the game’s biggest names in the worst possible light, it has done the reputation of some within football the world of good.

This includes the fans, managers, and players who spoke out against the plan when it seemed that the game was in genuine danger of finally disappearing from the reach of those to whom it matters the most.

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Watching this tawdry concept perish just a little over 48 hours after it was exposed to the scrutiny of popular opinion, was my favourite footballing moment since I celebrated watching my beloved Portsmouth clinch promotion four years ago.

Yes, there is still plenty wrong with how our national sport is both structured and governed, but for a couple of hours at least last week, it felt like people power had socked it to ‘The Man’.

It’s not often that football can claim to occupy the moral high ground, but it might be looking down on other sections of society for that bit longer following the announcement that all those associated with the senior men’s and women’s game, will be boycotting social media this weekend.

The hugely significant action, which will apply to every professional English club and their associations and will last until midnight on Monday, follows an, until now, toothless response to abuse from knuckle draggers and underpants-wearing bedroom dwellers on social media.

Vile posts, which are so often racially aggravated, have been pouring out of the major platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram ever since their inception but the problem has had greater exposure during the past year.

Not a week goes by without another depressing story of abuse aimed at footballers, usually for the colour of their skin, or female pundits, for having the temerity to have more knowledge about the game than most of us who yearn for the days when we can stand shoulder to shoulder with strangers in stadium urinals again.

Occasionally, perpetrators are unmasked and rightly charged with a criminal offence but, more often than not, they are able to crawl back under their stone, without having to take responsibility for the bile they have unleashed into cyberspace.

The stance that English football is taking is as much a message to the technology giants as it is to the terrible bigots who use their platforms to spout their horrible rubbish. As witnessed with the super league backlash, this country really does care about football and genuine fans really care about the players who wear their club’s colours with pride.

This means that the boycott could have a genuine impact, especially if large numbers of fans follow suit and stay off their phones for three days. I know that is what I will be doing as something has to change.

As a middle-aged white bloke, I won’t ever experience racist or sexist abuse, but these platforms are being hijacked by an angry and deranged few who, in days gone by, would’ve been writing letters in green ink to newspapers such as this one. Back then, a senior journalist responsible for the letters page would’ve more than likely stuck these hateful missives on to the spike.

These days, there isn’t that line of defence and the morons feel empowered to say what they want even if it is breaking the law of this country or is likely to impact the mental health of the intended target.

The companies involved stress that they won’t tolerate such behaviour and will cite the various steps they take but it isn’t enough.

Maybe football will continue to surprise us all and help force even more change for the better.

A message from the editor, Mark Waldron.

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