By Marcus Dysch
December 29, 2013
West Bromwich Albion striker Nicolas Anelka’s antisemitic goal “celebration” has plunged English football into its third race row in as many years.
The Frenchman’s “quenelle” salute – described by his country’s sports minister Valérie Fourneyron as an incitement to racial hatred, and by journalist Philippe Auclair as “cretinous” – brings to football stadiums in this country a controversy that is spiralling out of control across the Channel.
The rise of the antisemitic signal – part Nazi salute, part “up yours” gesture – has been so rapid that French authorities want to ban its creator, antisemitic “comedian” Dieudonné from performing in public.
I will leave it for others to explain at greater length the truly despicable track-record of Dieudonné, Anelka’s friend.
The archives of my own newspaper are stuffed full of examples of the French performer’s Jew-hatred, while this background piece from the Independent gives a flavour of how seriously the quenelle is being taken in France.
What worries me is what this means for English football and what happens next?
Few people in this country would have seen or heard of the quenelle before yesterday. But could Anelka’s actions lead to it becoming as popular, and notorious, here as in France?
Images of other Premier League players – including Manchester City’s French midfielder Samir Nasri – performing the salute are now working their way around the internet. They are not new, but they are being seen by English fans for the first time.
Within hours of Anelka’s goal, others were rushing to back him. Yannick Sagbo, the marauding French striker at my own beloved club, Hull City, was among them. He posted a tweet on Saturday night lauding Anelka as a "legend", apparently supporting Dieudonné and linking to an image of the goalscorer making the gesture.
How long will it be, we have to wonder, before English fans pose alongside their football heroes and perform the quenelle, just as Anelka is pictured alongside his supposed hero, Dieudonné?
How long will it be before a Nasri or a Sagbo “celebrates” a goal in the same way? Anelka’s actions – for which he remains totally unrepentant remember - may only be the first of many, not just on professional football pitches, but potentially also in playgrounds across the country.
If you think I’m overreacting consider the two most recent and serious racist incidents in the once-beautiful game.
When then-England captain John Terry called Anton Ferdinand a “****ing black ****” during a Chelsea versus Queens Park Rangers Premier League game, the fallout continued for nearly two years.
The case was dragged through both the criminal courts and the game’s own disciplinary procedures. Chelsea fans – notorious for their own history of antisemitism – responded at matches by booing not just Anton Ferdinand, the victim, but in matches against Manchester United they also targeted his brother, Rio Ferdinand.
There was no condemnation from them of Terry's despicable behaviour – to them he continues to be a “captain, leader, legend”.
And what can we make of Liverpool FC’s response to the comments made by their striker Luis Suárez, when he abused Manchester United defender Patrice Evra at least 10 times during one game?
As the FA conducted disciplinary action against the Uruguayan, Liverpool players and coaches emerged for their warm-up at a subsequent game wearing solidarity t-shirts displaying a picture of the striker. Liverpool fans booed Evra, just as Chelsea supporters had barracked the Ferdinands.
Two years on, Terry continues to captain Chelsea, and Suárez is currently stand-in captain of Liverpool.
When it comes to racism on the field, English football has thankfully not yet reached the levels of fans and clubs in eastern Europe. But worrying patterns have emerged. Chelsea and Liverpool set examples of how to respond to racism in the worst ways.
Should we expect West Brom to surprise us now with Anelka? I doubt it. Yesterday the club’s stand-in coach Keith Downing laughed off the quenelle gesture, saying Anelka was showing his support for a friend.
No one can expect Downing to have a working understanding of contemporary French antisemitism, but we should at the very least hope he knows when to keep his mouth shut.
The only thing he should have said in response was that the club would look into Anelka's actions. Five minutes on Google would have given Downing all the education he needed.
And what of the Football Association? It is already investigating the incident and will surely question Anelka. A hefty ban and fine are the only possible outcomes.
Suárez was banned for eight games and fined £40,000 for calling Evra “negrito”. Terry accepted a four game ban and a whopping £220,000 fine.
Whatever course of action the FA now takes, it is hard not to think the most serious damage has already been done – both on the field and the terraces.
I hope footballers and their fans surprise us by condemning both Anelka’s actions and all forms of racism in the game. But I won’t be holding my breath.