Wider repercussions of Paris Metro incident may hinder Chelsea’s ambitions
Samsung could feel their sponsorship deal is ending at the right time
Two of Chelsea’s playing icons of last decade, John Terry and Didier Drogba, would have interesting viewpoints on Wednesday’s racist chanting by their fans at a Paris Metro station.Photograph: Phil Cole/Getty.
As the ball dropped squarely on the broad chest of Diego Costa in Paris on Tuesday night, the thought crossed the mind that somewhere in South Korea, someone would be very happy with what had just been shown and seen around the world. The camera lingered on Costa’s control and the word Samsung glowed from his fluorescent shirt. Blue on yellow, Samsung stood out.
Elsewhere in Paris, meanwhile, an expat Englishman was sending footage from a Metro station of some Chelsea fans singing on a packed carriage. They were happy, too. They were, as they sang, happy to be racist. As they were singing, a Frenchman – who happens to be black – tried to enter the carriage. He was pushed back, twice. The camera lingered again. White on black, this stood out.
When the Metro footage emerged on the Guardian, back in Samsung Town, Seoul, previous happiness at the global exposure brought by Chelsea in the Champions League, presumably settled into a form of satisfaction that Samsung’s shirt sponsorship deal has only three months to run. Samsung are getting out at a moment when the value of Chelsea’s name has been smudged.
It seems cynical to reduce a racist incident to a bottom-line interpretation, but then the word slave used to come with “trade” attached. Racism is cynical, and it is economic on various levels.
So if it sounds brutal to ask of the intimidation on the Paris Metro – will it matter? – it is different from asking – does it matter? To the latter the answer is of course, yes. It matters to the man involved, to those on the train and to everyone concerned about the everyday racism which seems, more and more, to be everywhere.
It matters in France, for example. Had Didier Drogba not achieved his status via sport, Drogba could easily have been the black man on the Paris Metro being threatened by a gang of white English football fans.
To the former, it should matter. Chelsea’s suspension on Thursday night of three of those alleged to have been on the footage from Paris was a welcome and clear response from a club that has managed to have John Terry as well as Drogba as two of its principal playing icons of the past decade.
In one passage from his stimulating autobiography, Drogba narrates a trip he took for his own education to the island of Gorée off the coast of Senegal. It was, as he says, to see “a place millions of black people left”. They were boarding slave ships or “giant cemeteries” as Drogba puts it: “many of them died at sea and were flung overboard like trash.”
Then on Saturdays, Drogba lines up with Terry, a man whose England career was ended because of a racial slur against Anton Ferdinand.
That contradiction meant we did not know the full range of Chelsea’s reaction to Tuesday night, and we still don’t. But it is heartening that the club has not tried to downplay the grim embarrassment of seeing a group of their supporters behaving with the sort of patronizing, thuggish entitlement all too reminiscent of the Alabama on our cinema screens in Selma.
It feels, as of now, as if Chelsea’s response has not been small or parochial.
It cannot be. With Samsung departing, Turkish Airlines are favourites to be on Chelsea players’ chests next season. This is Chelsea’s other, corporate, world and the club cannot afford – literally and emotionally – to have it tarnished.
Apparently Turkish Airlines have baulked at the numbers Chelsea are talking for the deal, and an incident such as Tuesday’s could be added to other concerns if the company chooses to back out. Such a move would be heard loudly in the sponsorship market. If attitudes towards Chelsea change, even in part because of Tuesday, then there is material damage where modern clubs feel it most.
While we associate with the human repercussions – and Chelsea’s youth coaches must try to comprehend what the Paris Metro noise says to the young black members of their various squads – at a broader level, the hierarchy must face the potential corporate harm.
Because while supporters chanting of their ease with racism may not convey it, Chelsea are an aspirational club.
For all their recent success, there is still a wannabe element to the Stamford Bridge boardroom, where, for one thing, they want their sponsorship contracts to be in the same league as Manchester United’s.
Owned by a Russian, managed by a Portuguese, with an Ivory Coast “legend” leading its billboards and, on Tuesday, a goalscorer from Serbia, Chelsea can point to global influence.
In the near-12 years of Roman Abramovich, the club has mushroomed from one that wanted to be “the Manchester United of the South” – Ken Bates, 2000 – to one with supporters’ clubs in 33 European countries alone, including 11 branches in Ireland. From Costa Rica, to Senegal to Tokyo, there are also followers of Chelsea when 15 years ago there may have been none.
So this matters. It matters if Chelsea want to be London’s Real Madrid, say, rather than the Man United of the South of England.
Eyes from Seoul to Istanbul to Hammersmith are on the club. All politics are local, it was said by Tip O’Neill. This incident proves that to be true – on one hand. On the other, O’Neill might say that all politics are now global.
WILFRIED BONY’S RETURN AFTER AFRICAN CONQUEST GIVES MANCHESTER CITY A TIMELY BOOST
Wilfried Bony is back, back from the African Cup of Nations, back to a fresh start at Manchester City.
Bony is expected to make his sky blue debut at home against Newcastle United and if Bony is anything like the Bony at Swansea, Newcastle’s defenders will find themselves experiencing a familiar trepidation.
Whether he starts or comes on as a substitute, Bony knows he knows how to score against Newcastle.
He has already done so once this season for Swansea, adding to the two goals that he got at St James’ Park last season.
The 26-year-old has had almost a fortnight off since helping Ivory Coast win the Afcon.
It was while away that he left Swansea for Manchester for €38 million.
Bony could do with as many minutes as possible on the pitch against Newcastle to help ensure peak sharpness when City’s next visitors arrive on Tuesday: Barcelona.
Bony has been bought for both purposes: to help City chase Chelsea in the Premier League and to help City advance against the elite of the Champions League.
With Yaya Toure also back from the Afcon, this is City’s moment to kick on.