Knight of the long knives grits his teeth as he ends Beeb boycott
TV VIEW:IT WAS like spotting an airborne piggy last season when Alex Ferguson popped up for a post-match chat on Match of the Day, the first time he had done so in seven years. There ended his boycott of the BBC that dated back to the 2004 Panorama investigation, Ferguson severely displeased because it raised a question or two about his son Jason’s activities as a football agent.
It was hard not to sense that he would have been happier standing on the Kop, a Liver bird tattooed on his heart, bellowing You’ll Never Walk Alone, than chin-wagging with the Beeb, his demeanour not always suggesting bygones were entirely gone. But he gritted his teeth and got on with it.
It’s good he’s back, otherwise we’d have been denied moments such as the one on Saturday night when he gave his considered view on Rio Ferdinand’s decision not to wear the T-shirt of the Kick It Out anti-racism campaign in the warm-up for the game against Stoke – because he, like many others, just doesn’t feel enough is being done to fight racism in the game.
“He’ll be dealt with, don’t worry about that,” said the Knight.
Having denounced, last week, Reading’s Jason Roberts for saying he would refuse to wear the Kick It Out T-shirt – “He’s trying to put himself on a different pedestal to everyone else” – and promising that all his players would wear it, Ferguson said Ferdinand had embarrassed him. And that, evidently, was an unforgivable offence.
His mood was such that you wondered if Ferdinand would find a horse’s head under his pillow as punishment for defying the boss.
Or, worse, be transferred to, say, Liverpool in the January transfer window. The ultimate payback, like.
Gary Lineker, Harry Redknapp and Alan Shearer were reluctant to be too harsh on the Knight, lest, perhaps, he kick the BBC off his post-match chat schedule again, but they gently suggested that, maybe, just possibly, he was a little wrong.
“If Rio doesn’t feel the Kick It Out campaign is doing enough to deal with the problems he feels there is with racism, then it his choice not to wear it,” said Redknapp. Shearer nodded, as he tends to.
It was a reasonable enough assessment from a man who, at 65, is just five years younger than the Knight, so hails from an era when footballers, largely, were seen and not often heard. Although you couldn’t but note Redknapp’s formulation: “the problems he feels there is with racism”.
But the times they are a-changing, a little, so, being a grown-up 33-year-old father of three, Ferdinand is possibly big enough and old enough to have his own views. And being the older brother of a fella who was called a “f***ing black c***” by the then England captain probably entitles him to feel a touch passionately about the issue. Especially after witnessing Terry being cleared of a racially aggravated public order offence in court, despite admitting using the words, and a sizeable chunk of the football world defending the creature, along the lines of: “JT ain’t got a racist bone in ’is body!”
Redknapp, though, went on to express some exasperation about the coverage of these recent incidents of racism, reckoning it had all gone too far, the media just blowing it out of all proportion, going on to recall the olden days when “the boy” Clyde Best got dog’s abuse because of the colour of his skin.
Those days are gone, insisted the 65-year-old on the all-white nodding BBC panel, never revealing whether he’d had a chat with any “non-white” players before making his declaration.
Granted, there’s less banana- chucking and “monkey” chants from the English terraces these days, but still, before he declares English football is done and dusted with this racism lark, ’Arry should probably have had a word with Anton Ferdinand or Patrice Evra or the 14-year-old Sheffield United ball boy who claimed he was racially abused by an Oldham player last week.
But football folk aren’t always the best at handling unsavoury stuff. Take that delightful moment last week when Sheffield Wednesday goalkeeper Chris Kirkland was set upon by a Leeds fan at Hillsborough.
Leeds manager Neil Warnock condemned the incident, categorically, but added, with his customary smirk, that Kirkland “went down like a ton of bricks”. Sky News replayed his words so many times that it at least allowed you confirm your ears had not deceived you.
Warnock apologised later, after being confronted by Kirkland, but it reminded you that, in football, somehow the victim is always partly to blame.
But “he’ll be dealt with, don’t worry about that”.