Tom Watt: Raheem Sterling was right on racism


Tom Watt is the author of several books on football.
In this first part of his interview with Prost International, he addresses the issues around racism in football raised by Raheem Sterling after he was abused at Chelsea.

Tom Watt is an actor, writer, film-maker and broadcaster.

He ghosted David Beckham’s autobiography and wrote the official history of Wembley Stadium, presented the Football Outposts television documentary series for BT Sport and has produced films for organisations as varied as the Premier League in England, Houston Dynamo in MLS and SC Gabala in Azerbaijan. He’s been an Arsenal supporter for over 50 years.

In a series of interviews with Prost, Tom gives his views about a range of issues.

The series starts with the thorny issues of racism in football, in the sports media and the views of Raheem Sterling who voiced his concerns that fan racism is encouraged by racist articles in the media.

Prost International: Manchester City forward Raheem Sterling gave some forthright views on racism after being the victim of abuse at a match. He connected the abuse from the stands to racist articles in the media. Was he right?

Tom Watt: Well, simple answer. Yes. I think what Raheem said was right. In his case when he was playing for Manchester City at Chelsea there was an individual example of a person racially abusing Raheem Sterling. And I think that it was very, very…it was right on every level. It was intelligent, it was perceptive, it was important, it was relevant.

Prost International:  On the role the media plays?

Tom Watt: He tried to broaden that conversation. It’s all very well newspapers getting up – and this is true of supporters as well not just sports writers – getting up on their high horse when an incident of racism occurs and saying “oh we won’t have that.” And you demonise the individual fan. And by demonising the individual what you do is you actually wash your hands of issues that go deeper.

And I think what Raheem Sterling did was say, “well look, that guy is one thing but when I look at the newspapers, and he gave that example the young Manchester City player Tosin Adarabioyo who I know and I’ve actually done work with.

He’s a lovely kid on loan at the moment at West Bromwich Albion. So when he buys his mum a house, the press react in one way because he is black and let’s be frank. That’s exactly why they reacted the way they did. And it attracted the kind of publicity it did. When Phil Foden, who’s white, did the same thing it was treated in a completely different way.

“Raheem at least has got a platform. There are millions of people who experience racism in their daily lives who have no platform.

That makes it all the more important that Raheem takes a stand.”

And, do you know?

What Raheem said, he was was right, it’s true. And what was great is I guess what he did do is he started a conversation. So you wouldn’t have heard it there, although if people were interested enough you would be able to find it on YouTube or BBC’s streaming services. One of the people who kind of spoke out on the back of what Raheem said was John Barnes, who took it a stage further and said “look, you know, what Raheem experienced is the very public face of something that every black person in Britain will experience, if not daily, will experience regularly in their daily lives.

So, let’s not think it’s something separate, let’s not think “oh, racism is something that one or two bad people do in football grounds.” No. That’s the visible end.

It comes from something that runs far deeper, and John is an incredibly eloquent man. He obviously was playing in an era when racism, inside football grounds, was far more prevalent, was far more accepted. He experienced it first hand. But, obviously now he’s not a footballer and he recognises that Raheem at least has got a platform. There are millions of people who experience racism in their daily lives who have no platform.

That makes it all the more important that Raheem takes a stand. That he doesn’t just get his head down and kind of pass on. He actually said what he had to say. If anybody takes a chance to just put in on Google, “John Barnes on Radio Five”. He did about an hour long phone-in and John was absolutely sensational about it.

It’s an issue in football, of course it’s an issue in football. But let’s not pretend its an issue just in football. It’s an issue in society. Now, that’s not to say that football doesn’t have to deal with racism in football, and, of course, it does. But on the one hand you’ve got people who will write headlines condemning racists. But, on the other hand, will write columns which turn their nose up at the Rooney Rule, and bringing the Rooney Rule into English football.

They don’t see the connection. So, absolutely, Raheem was right and absolutely that football needs to deal with. But you don’t deal with it just by banning one guy from a football ground.


Prost International: So, was Raheem right then specifically about the lack of diversity in the media being to blame? He was backed by Leon Mann, Troy Townsend, Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Stan Collymore and many others.

I’ve been in English press boxes, and they don’t all sound like me, but they look like me. Is a greater diversity of journalists in the press box the start to start ending this covert and overt racism in the media, especially the sports media.

Tom Watt: Yes. But what I’m saying to you is: yes, but that is not the issue. That’s an issue. That’s part of the problem.

The problem is, apart from as players, black and Asian and ethnic minority people are not represented on any level, at any place within the national game.

There are black managers, but you can count them on the fingers with one hand. There are no black chief executives. There are no black chairmen. There are players, and that’s it.

So, whether that’s in the boardroom, in the manager’s office, in the press room. Wherever that is, there’s this disconnect. Absolutely, they are unrepresented. And absolutely, yes, the media needs to respond to that and put it’s house in order.

But, like I’m saying, kicking one person out of a stadium for racially abusing Raheem Sterling will not solve the problem. Finding ways to create a more diverse workforce in press boxes in English football will not on its own sort the problem.

There are things that need to happen, and as soon as you start running through football, you see that what is missing in football, is also whats missing in the rest of society. It’s not just football boardrooms where there are no black faces. It’s every boardroom.

We will have more from Tom Watt soon including his views on the expectations of Arsenal fans, his efforts to rehabilitate offenders and football in Sarajevo.


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