I understand why he did so – all managers defend their players, even on the flimsiest of terms – but I do wish Blackburn Rovers manager Sam Allardyce hadn’t offered his support to El Hadji Diouf.
The Senegal striker deserves none.
Diouf used to play for Liverpool. So, he must expect to attract abuse at some away grounds, certainly at Goodison Park and at Old Trafford. Much of it is light-hearted but why hasn’t the player learnt he simply has to take it?
He claims that bananas were thrown at him during the Everton game last Sunday. That is a very serious charge. I remember it as a particularly infantile form of racism ‘beloved’ in the 80s. But it isn’t true. Merseyside Police investigated the allegation and decided there was no evidence to support it. Everton are right to be furious and deserve an apology.
Indeed, much more disturbing, surely, was the allegation made against Diouf regarding his supposed verbal abuse of a ball boy: that he yelled “F*** off white boy”, claiming the 14-year-old threw the ball at him “like a bone to a dog”.
Diouf has history which is sad because he is a very talented footballer. I saw him first in the World Cup in 2002 when he was instrumental in the opening defeat of the then champions France. I wasn’t surprised that Gerrard Houllier took him to Anfield. But it wasn’t long before you wondered if his snarling approach to opposition players and fans might outweigh his undoubted skills.
Within a year he was spitting at a smiling Celtic supporter who’d patted him playfully on the head as he fell over a hoarding into the crowd at Parkhead. Diouf claimed that “in Senegalese culture it is insulting to be touched on the head because slave traders once did it”.
Experts were puzzled by what he said. They knew no such tradition. Diouf had played the race card.
And spitting became a vile habit. There was the case of an 11-year-old fan at Boro and then, soon after, he gobbed at the former Portsmouth player Arjan De Zeeuw. Each time Diouf alleged he’d been provoked by racist abuse.
Now I have no doubt whatsoever racism still exists within football. How can you miss hearing the taunts of “black b*****d”? There may be fewer these days but they still exist.
I remember once berating police outside Barnsley – there were none in the ground – at how there had been no punishment as an Arsenal player was persistently racially abused. I pointed out the offender to a steward, who did nothing.
And it’s one of the reasons why – because racism continues – I desperately hope the tide at Tranmere turns in favour of John Barnes. You see, he really did have bananas thrown at him at Everton. Barnes suffered disgraceful abuse, even when he played so gloriously for England.
Diouf does Barnes and all the rest of us that want to see racism out of the game no favours. I wouldn’t be sorry to see him out of English football.
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