The Chris Kabwato Column | The Black List: Why does the UK press hate black footballers?

I watched the Manchester football derby on Sunday 3 March 2024 with some trepidation. Of course, I wanted Manchester City to get whacked as that would help the Arsenal cause in the title chase. However, it was not to be, and the English media reports were predictable enough in terms of the protagonists they chose to focus on – the beloved white knight Phil Foden versus the “flashy black man”, Marcus Rashford.

In the aftermath of the dismantling of Manchester United, Foden was described by The Guardian’s Barney Ronay in superlative terms:

Foden is born to play in those constricted spaces and he made the difference. He is still only 23, glides so sweetly, has begun to dribble more, to reach into the outer limits of his own capacities.

Yes, he is only 23 and already a father of two children with his ‘long-term girlfriend’. How sweet. The media also tell us that Foden is “an avid fisherman, considering it one of his favourite activities outside of football.”

And what about Marcus Rashford? Again, Mr Ronay had something to say:

Marcus Rashford had given United the lead in the eighth minute with his only real contribution to the game; a single, beautifully pure, beautifully angry strike of the ball into the same top corner. After which United defended for 50 minutes like a group of trench foot‑and‑whisky infantrymen in the last days of the Western Front.

How the adjective “angry” fits here remains a mystery but then certain journalists have a bag of tropes to tap into when they describe the actions of certain players. If you think I am nitpicking, let us look at the bigger picture of the framing of black players and contrast that with the tolerance of the bad behaviour of the “lads” – Harry Maguire, Jack Grealish, and company.

Unfair treatment: Harry Maguire vs Raheem Sterling

A couple of years ago, I had the privilege of working under a chief executive that put values and culture at the heart of his business strategy. One of the values he emphasised, and practiced, was fairness. The English media has never had the ability to introspect and treat black people with any modicum of fairness.

Harry Maguire was convicted by a court in Greece for assault whilst on holiday on the island of Mykonos in 2020. Three years later, the English media still chooses to speak of Harry’s “purported” involvement in a brawl. They also take his side against what is painted as a slow and archaic appeal process in the Greek courts:

“Maguire has denied he struck police officers when they attempted to break up a street fight while he was holidaying on the island. He has claimed local officers lashed out at him after he was forced to intervene when his younger sister, Daisy, was stabbed in an arm. The footballer has alleged the sight of Daisy fainting prompted him to act after she was jabbed with a metal straw by a gangster type whose advances she had previously rejected.”

I can see the hero here coming to the rescue of the damsel in distress. How touching. The lucky lad even retained the captaincy of both Manchester United and England at the height of L’affaire grecque.

Such empathy has never been extended towards Raheem Sterling. Here is what some white folk think of him. Vinnie Jones was known for breaking players’ legs when he was part of Wimbledon’s ‘Crazy Gang’ between 1984 and 1998. As a player, he was described, rather charitably, as man of limited technical ability. Being a white man with a microphone, that did not stop him from having an opinion on Sterling during the 2018 FIFA World Cup: “…Sometimes you look at Sterling and you think, if he didn’t have that pace he’d be playing for Exeter or someone.” For Jones, Vardy was a better choice for England, and he also praised Maguire to the roof saying he could have played a generation earlier with the likes of Tony Adams.

Not content with stereotyping, these people have decided to intrude into the lives of black players and question their financial decisions. In 2016, The Sun newspaper needed someone to be the scapegoat for England’s failures at the European Championship. They got hold of a video of Sterling showing friends a house that he had bought his mum, Nadine. The Sun described the house as ‘obscene’ – the subtext was that this ‘black migrant boy’ did not deserve whatever he was paid. It is a narrative the English media repeats without fail in terms of the cars, jewellery, houses, and vacations of black athletes.

Interestingly, on 18 March 2022, the same rag of a newspaper had a screaming headline:

OWEN YOUR HOME Michael Owen’s amazing home worth 4m has a putting green, all his hat-trick balls, as well as a spinning Ballon d’Or.

The article is a study in sycophancy. It drips with embarrassing adulation for a hardworking son of the soil who deserves his riches, presumably unlike that Jamaica-born young man whose father was murdered in Kingston, Jamaica. Just imagine if Sterling had bought a 42-acre estate in the Welsh countryside. We would have the paparazzi hiding in the hedge, with some rummaging through the trash and giving us the lowdown on “lavish parties” etc.

Unperturbed in the corner of a bar is Jack Grealish drinking everyone under the table. Just a lad being a lad. Nothing to write about.

The Raducanu School of Journalism

The English love tennis, deeply. They also have that gem of a tournament called Wimbledon. The problem is that they are quite mediocre at tennis. Sir Andrew Barron Murray (Andy Murray to you) was some Great Brit Hope. between 2013 and 2016, he did give the insufferable Brits something to brag about. Alas, the Scot – sorry the Briton’s – star faded rather alarmingly.

But two years ago, someone that closely resembled their hue came flashing by and this is how she is described by the comrades at Wikipedia:

Emma Raducanu is a British professional tennis player. She reached a career-high ranking of No. 10 by the Women’s Tennis Association on 11 July 2022, and is a former British No. 1. Raducanu is the first British woman to win a Grand Slam singles title since Virginia Wade at the 1977 Wimbledon Championships.

Now whereas most black athletes who identify as British come with a hyphenated identity, no single English media calls Raducanu Canadian-British even though she holds dual citizenship. If digging deeper into her identity it gets even more interesting – her father is Romanian and her mother, Chinese.

Since she won that fluke of a grand slam at Wimbledon in 2022, Raducanu has slipped down the ranks to number 250 in the Women’s Tennis Association rankings. Not a word of criticism from those inkmen who always had withering opinions on Naomi Osaka and Coco Gauff. Instead, the English media has come up with every excuse in the book on why Raducanu is not doing well. The Guardian, in particular, has developed a Raducanu School of Journalism which teaches the art of digging deep for excuses for mediocrity. One recent headline was bizarre enough: Emma Raducanu’s ranking could be about to leap if she makes the right calls

We make the right call for solidarity

Whilst we know Linford Christie will always be called “Jamaica-born British sprinter” and Emma Raducanu will always be the “Brit tennis star”, it is encouraging that pundits like Arsenal legend Ian Wright consistently call out the grossly unfair and racist treatment of black athletes such as Sterling and Rashford. We need people with the courage to call out unfair treatment such as the blatant cheating of Lewis Hamilton at the Abu Dhabi F1 Grand Prix in 2022 so that Max Verstappen could win his first world title.

We need more voices to defend blackness and our right to be treated fairly in any given sporting context.