Holland, B (1997) 'Surviving leisure time racism: the burden of racial harassment on Britain's black footballers', in Leisure Studies, 16, 4: 261 - 77.
The football arena is often treated as if it were special and sacred, but it is clearly also the location for racial harassment. One defence is to see such harassment as simply part of the game, the routine barracking of opponents. However, there is a long history of barracking of black entertainers as well as football players. Spectators at football matches have resentments and fears which can become unrestrained in the euphoria of sports stadia, producing racist songs, chants and abuse. The National Front is not solely responsible: there is a 'basic racism' too (263). Cashmore's work on the logic of racism can explain this. The work on skinheads and their links with working-class territoriality also helps, and skinheads were a channel for racism in football: a sense of working-class territoriality can mesh with fears and metaphors of invasion.
Black players began to appear in numbers in the mid-1970s, although there have been individual black football players since 1889. Racist abuse began to be collectivised as a results of the expansion in numbers of black players, and football offered more 'opportunity for racist fans to abuse black players' (265). Although right-wing slogans and gestures are common, they are not essential. Recently there have been a number of campaigns to stamp out racism in football.
Holland did his own participant-observation posing as a Newcastle supporter. He soon gathered some evidence of abuse directed at black players both home players and opponents. This was mixed with the routine abuse of opponents, but it was disproportionately aimed at black people. Having a black player on the home team seemed to make little difference, and they got abuse as well. There is a great deal of abuse anyway at football matches, so Holland decided to attempt to calculate the 'burden of abuse'. The results of observations at one particular match are noted. Holland categorised types of abuse and then totalled the number of incidents and divided by the number of players in order to arrive at an estimate of the burden of abuse for individual players. At this particular match, black players on the visiting team [Portsmouth!] scored 80 times the average level of abuse (269). Black home players received eight times more abuse than that directed at their white team-mates. Black home players received even more abuse than visiting white players. It seems clear that race is a major factor affecting the distribution of abuse, despite denials by club officials.
Holland then interviewed black players. He noted that they were found predominantly in the top divisions, and 'are more successful than their white counterparts' (271). Black players cope in a number of ways, sometimes denying racist abuse as well. They are generally keen not to make a fuss, fearing that it might damage their careers. The PFA seems to offer little real support. Black players often have to warn family and friends to stay away from matches, sometimes because family members can receive abuse too.
Finally, there is some evidence that anti-racist campaigns have worked in reducing the level of racist abuse. However, it seems that organized and collective abuse was more damaging than the isolated in individual abuse in the 1950s. There is also some evidence that black people living around football stadia are also more likely to receive abuse from football fans.