Racism: face to face with the uglier side of Spain

17th January 2005, Comments 0 comments

The row over racism in Spanish football shows no sign of abating: Graham Keeley saw at first hand why.

It didn't take long to start.

As the Andalusian derby, between rivals Malaga and Seville kicked off, every time the black players from Seville touched the ball, that familiar, sickening, cry went up.

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The 'monkey chants' were directed at the away players by a small section of the Malaga fans.

At first I could not believe my ears. I was instantly transported back to the bad old days of English football, when abuse like this was commonplace.

Did it escape these numbskulls that their own star player, Paulo Wanchope, who scored the winning goal in a rather dismal game, was himself black?

Or perhaps these fans were afflicted with a strange form of colour-blindness that only saw the colour of opposing players, and not their own?

I looked to see if the referee would ask the club officials to ask these fans to stop – as has happened at other grounds.

But no action was taken and the chanting went on.

I looked across at a black Malaga fan, his discomfort obvious every time the chanting started again.  I wondered how many times he has had to endure this.

*quote1*By chance, the Spanish minister of development, Magdalena Alvarez, was at the game to promote the Socialist government's campaign for the EU constitutional referendum to be held next month.

What must Senora Alvarez, who must have heard the chanting, be thinking as she tried to persuade Spaniards to enter into a spirit of internationalism?

Before the game, all the flags of the EU were paraded on the ground as part of the campaign.

How did this match with the ugly racism which was all too alive in the crowd?

And while the match went on, advertising banners around the ground promoted Madrid's bid to stage the Olympics in 2012.

What, I thought, might members of the International Olympic Committee make of this spectacle as Madrid tried to persuade them it could stage an international sporting event? Not much perhaps.

After 45 minutes I had had enough and left.

*quote2*Earlier, I had traveled to the game with a group of British expats who live on the Costa del Sol and who have become die-hard Malaga fans.

After the game I asked them what they made of the chanting.

One fan said: "I wouldn't mind but Malaga have got a black player of their own.”

Another remarked: "It has happened before and we don't like it. But what can you do? This is Spain."

One bar owner from Marbella, who had organised the coach trip, said: "They all love Paulo Wanchope. I don't think the Spanish are racist. It is the first time that I have heard this here.

"I think after the England game, the press hyped it up. If you ignore it, it will go away.”

The reference was to the controversy over similar monkey chants made by Spanish fans at England's black players during a supposed friendly game in November.

The affair led to the Spanish Football Association being forced to apologise. But it has not stopped the chanting.

Only last week, at one of the highest profile games of the season, between Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid, more chants were directed at Real's black Brazilian defender, Roberto Carlos.

Atletico were given a derisory EUR 600 fine because the Spanish FA ruled they had done all they could to stop the chanting, by making an announcement calling on fans to stop. The chanting went on.

It has also happened in recent weeks at Barcelona, Albacete and Real Madrid. The row has prompted commentators to say the chanting is symbolic of the fact Spain is becoming a racist country partly because it is still trying to come to terms with large-scale immigration for the first time.

Esteban Ibarra, of the Movement Against Intolerance, said: "We have a problem with racism. Either this is stemmed now, or something will happen."

As a test of the Spanish attitude to th

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