Racism could be eradicated from football if the authorities cared enough, Les Ferdinand, the former Newcastle and England forward and now director of football at London club QPR, has told AFP.
The 54-year-old affectionately known as “Sir Les” was one of the most feared marksmen in his days at Queens Park Rangers, Newcastle and Tottenham—and endured years of racial abuse from supporters.
Racism in football has reared its ugly head this year when black England players Bukayo Saka, Jadon Sancho and Marcus Rashford were abused on social media following their penalty misses in the Euro 2020 final shootout with Italy.
England players too have been abused in Budapest while playing Hungary in a 2022 World Cup qualifier.
“Football has been an arena in the past where people could come and voice their opinions on your colour and throw bananas onto the pitch and walk away without any consequences,” Ferdinand told AFP at second-tier QPR’s training facilities in west London.
“OK that’s changed and people are now being held accountable for their actions when they do things like that.
“(Racism) is a societal problem and you’ll never eradicate it from society, but we can eradicate it from football if we want to.
“But the people in the higher positions and the position to do something about it, don’t care about it enough because if they did they would do something about it.”
‘Find the solution’
Ferdinand says he got so fed up he stopped addressing the issue for a long time simply because “that’s all we seem to do, talk about it,” with nothing being done.
He is astonished how often he is asked what his solution would be.
“One of the examples I use is when someone’s house gets burgled, the police come around and they do their investigations,” he said.
“They don’t then ask the person who’s been victimised, ‘What do we do next, how do we move it forward?’, they do something about it.
“But I keep getting asked, ‘What should we do about it? How do we move it forward?’, and we’re the ones that are being victimised.
“So I don’t quite get that. We’re supposed to find a solution to the problem.”
The lack of diversity in football management also riles Ferdinand—only seven of the 92 league clubs in England and Wales have black managers.
“I know Sol Campbell still wants to be a manager,” said Ferdinand, of the former England, Arsenal and Tottenham defender.
“He had to go to Macclesfield and no disrespect to Macclesfield, but (look) where they were in the league at the time.
“To get an opportunity Paul Ince had to go to the same club.
“You sometimes look at other managers who get on the merry-go-round and they get off it, get on it, get off it, get on it.
“These guys got on it, got off it and it seems like it’s moving too fast for them to get back on it again.”
‘Wild, Wild West’
Just as when he was a player, the thoughtful Ferdinand is not one to shirk challenges and he has managed to right what was a listing ship at QPR when he arrived in 2015.
He describes it jokingly as like “the Wild, Wild West” where everyone “did what they wanted to do and when they wanted”.
Money had been thrown around during two brief stays in the Premier League so he and his team have had to cut the cloth accordingly.
The club is bringing all the teams together at the one training facility—which it has bought outright for £20 million—to end a system where they are in different locations.
“Sometimes when you can see the first-team players train and see the goal you are trying to attain, even if you cannot touch them, that can be the best inspiration for any youngster,” Ferdinand said.
He believes the five-year bond recently offered to supporters as a way of investing in the training facility—which will open during the 2022/23 season—reflects the ties between the club and the fans.
They have until November 12 to invest a minimum of £500 ($685) with a potential 25 percent dividend should QPR be promoted to the Premier League in the next five years. They are currently in the top half of the Championship.
“This has always been a community club and this is just another way of giving back to the guys who supported this club for years and years,” Ferdinand said.
“Having gone to the dinner a few weeks ago when it was launched to see the appetite for it and enthusiasm tells you all you need to know.”