Kamara’s Salute Not Respected By All

AS FOOTBALL united to salute the memory of Nelson Mandela, a champion of racial unity and mutual respect, Boro fans were dragged reluctantly into a divisive race row after an unsavoury Quran ripping incident by a small group in the away end at Birmingham.
The club have reiterated their own strong line on racism but more importantly so have Boro supporters who were quick to condemn the handful of idiots. Here by popular demand (no, really) is the Kick It Out remix of this week’s Big Picture column.

IT WAS a poignant moment.
Both teams were lined up clapping before kick off at St Andrew’s as part of a generous and sincere minute’s applause to mark the life of Nelson Mandela before Boro’s 2-2 draw at Birmingham.
Panning along the line, players of a dozen nationalities respectfully joined in, although it is hard to judge their level of individual commitment to, knowledge of or interest in Mandela’s life and political legacy. For some of the players – and some of the crowd – it may be a case of another week, another touching tribute.
But halfway along the Boro squad there was a striking image. Kei Kamara stood with head bowed but his arm raised proudly with his fist clenched in an uncompromising salute. His gesture was the ‘amandla’ salute, a familiar gesture throughout Africa where it is associated with popular struggles against oppression.
It was an arresting sight. It had echoes of the dramatic, politically charged moment in the 1968 Olympics when medal winning US athletes Tommy Smith and John Carlos gave the Black Power salute from the podium.
Obviously Kamara’s salute does not relate directly to an explosive fissure in our own society. It will not shock or threaten the domestic audience.
It wasn’t a revolutionary call for armed struggle.
But it was far from just an empty gesture.
For we in England, Nelson Mandela may well be an eighties pop single, the cypher for a ‘right on’ Ben Elton student politics and boycotts or the more recent post-prison cuddly respected elder statesman, fawned over as an abstract harmless pin-up by sports people, musicians or politicians – many of who used to support apartheid.
But in Africa he is a far more potent figure, the embodiment of a decades long struggle for freedom, justice and equality against an entrenched economic super-power that dominated the continent with the tacit support of the developed nations.
And the success of the people of South Africa in liberating themselves is a powerful symbol of possibility in Africa and beyond. The country is far from perfect but it is free and can control its own destiny. And for all its faults it remains a beacon of hope in a turbulent continent that there is a future beyond post-colonial strife.
For Kamara, who faced the reality of violence and political dislocation before he escaped war-torn Sierra Leone, the image and legacy of Mandela will have far more emotive currency than for us.
His salute was a sincere and heart felt gesture. That was obvious.
I was proud that a Boro player was so overt in his personal celebration of a giant figure.
Football is a globalised game now and we must be aware of the cultural nuances of players from diverse backgrounds and very different experiences from our own.
So it was saddening and shocking to hear reports of a very disturbing incident in the away end during the same match as a small group of Boro fans trampled over any notion of cosmopolitan sensitivity.
It was reported that, in a crass show of ignorance and stupidity, a handful of idiots made their own symbolic gesture and ripped out pages of the Koran and spread them as shameful confetti.
The English language copies of the Islamic holy book had been given away free at a stall at a Christmas market in Birmingham city centre, under a banner asking “Do you know that Muslims worship Jesus also?”
It was a goodwill gesture by Moslems trying to build inter-denominational bridges in a city with an incredible religious and ethnic mix. That is a move to be welcomed.
But some of that small but toxic group reacted with a calculated hateful insult, took the holy text into the ground and ripped it up adding a nasty soundtrack with a chorus of a song about Birmingham’s demographics.
It probably wasn’t a pre-meditated act and has very little coherent political content but the opportunist idiocy was a small-minded and distasteful provocation that could easily have prompted a far bigger backlash.
The incident was filmed by Birmingham stewards and a couple of individuals were spoken to by stewards and local police but no charges were made at the time – although West Midlands are now reviewing the incident and action may follow. The incident will be logged and remembered and can only reflect badly on Boro supporters.
On a day marked by a show of respect that crossed barriers of race, nationality and religion on the pitch and in the stands you have to wonder what Kamara would have made of it all.
He is a bright, articulate and talented guy with an incredible back-story and who deserves respect. He has used his position and influence – and money – to help rebuild his shattered country using his success in his sport to get things done on the ground. He is one of the good guys.
And he is a very popular Boro player proving a hit with fans. He interacts easily through twitter and has championed an inclusive notion of a united #BoroNation. He is a great asset to the team and the club and he deserves support.
He is also a Moslem.
And he is not the only one. Both Mustapha Carayol and Faris Haroun are too.
Yet there are a minority of Boro fans who see no problem with public demonstrations of ignorant broad brush hatred that would appear to include some of their own players.
Indeed they celebrated it. Some of those involved spent much of the weekend defending their actions on social media in a fashion that revealed some of their alarmingly simplistic thinking.
“You had to be there today the legendary Koran incident we are Boro were Barmy we will do what we want. Pork pies bacon sarrnies and your book left in bits ENGLAND till we Die.”
That was the punctuation-free Facebook status that sparked a long bout of cyber-squabbling and ever more cringe making attempts at justification telling fellow fans who objected to lighten up, it was just ‘banter’ and talked about their right to free speech then retreated into a bout of ‘whataboutery’ attempting to justify their own boorish wilful ignorance by reference to equal one-eyed stupidity perpetrated by “them” elsewhere in arenas far removed from a Middlesbrough match.
The club are aware of the incident, have stressed have a zero tolerance policy on racism and are co-operating with Birmingham City and West Midland police. Boro chiefs have said they will ban for life anyone convicted of a racially motivated offence. Which is good.
And it is important that they take do action to defend the credibility of their public campaigning and put down an unequivocal marker that such poisonous activity will not be tolerated: Show racism the red card. Not a yellow. Not have a quiet word.
There have been increasing mumbles in the past few years of low level background racism and reports of vile chanting among isolated pockets of the Boro away contingent at grounds and around towns and on public transport and we must hope that such bigotry, hate and ignorance does not gain a renewed voice.
Football spent years driving the overt and intimidating racism that was a regular feature of matches in the seventies and eighties out of the game and off the terraces and we must not allow it to creep back in through the guise of Islamaphobia. We can not allow the background white noise of intolerance to become a Trojan Horse that will allow extremists to gather around the game in the way the National Front did in the past.
Campaigns by groups like Kick It Out and Show Racism The Red Card, a more pro-active approach from clubs against racism and the steady growth in numbers and profile of black players – domestic and imported – have helped create a much more inclusive atmosphere at grounds that has led to a much more varied ethnic mix at most grounds.
And society itself has changed, becoming much more cosmopolitan and colour-blind. Football is a reflection of that society. We as individuals and collectively must decide what type of game and what type of society we want.
Ironically, in a timely coincidence, the clash with Brighton had already been designated as Boro’s annual Kick It Out event so players will wear t-shirts and staff will wear badges. It is not just a token effort: Boro players often act as ant-racism ambassadors and conduct workshops in local schools while the club work closely with a broad range of Asian community groups throughout the year.
But there is no room for complacency. As Albert Adomah told the Gazette, the game is visibly more of a multi-cultural melting pot than ever before and so Kick It Out is as important as ever. Players have to support each other and the campaign.
And as fans we have to recognise that we have a responsibility too. Club officials and the police are distant background figures on matchdays when the crowd takes centre-stage and takes on a life of its own. And that puts supporters right on the front line.
The fight against racism in the game was led by fans. While the copped a deaf ‘un to racist chanting and the press, the clubs and the football authorities all turned a blind eye, it was decent supporters that pushed the issue into the spotlight.
It was conscious self-policing by supporters groups driven by the consciously anti-racist fanzine movement and groups like the Football Supporters Association that really made the difference within the crowd. They started the debate. They placed demands on clubs. They demanded action from the police.
They turned the tide on the terraces to the point where collective racist chanting is almost unknown and individual barracking sounds shocking and brings a flurry of complaints, especially at home. No-one wants to sit near a vocal racist.
So if there was any good to come out of the “legendary Koran incident” it was the spirited reaction by Boro fans quick to defend the reputation of the club and the travelling fans.
The majority of on-line activity in the aftermath was from decent, fair-minded fans, including eye-witnesses, horrified to be associated no matter how tenuously and eager to stress that it was totally unacceptable and corrosive behaviour.
The debate was heated at times and heavyhearted at others and went over some very tired and familiar ground – but it helped rally good fans to the flag.
Supporters are also now planning a show of their inclusive credentials. The Red Faction in particular want to publicly distance themselves from any hint of racism. They are generally among the noisiest and visible fans on the road and often pull off a set-piece stunt at games that get them noticed – but they want to make it crystal clear this was nothing to do with them.
The group are organising planning a march with banners reiterating that Boro fans are against racism. It starts from the first underpass near Cineworld and will parade to the Ayresome Park gates at the ground from 2pm before Saturday’s clash with Brighton.
Join them. Or at least show support. It’s important.


21 thoughts on “Kamara’s Salute Not Respected By All

  1. If, or perhaps that is when, we feel down about our footballing fortunes there is often something just around the corner to remind us that it really is only a game.
    What a mindless incident at St Andrews. What those fools set out to achieve or thought they had to gain with their Qu’ran stunt is beyond me. And at a time when populations across the world are paying tribute to Mandela and celebrating his example of tolerance and forgiveness. It doesn’t matter at all that there are Muslims in the Boro squad. Utter stupidity.
    Great work by the Red Faction. Again. A wholly welcome equal and opposite reaction.

  2. Such a sad outcome to what was (apart from the last minute leveller) a great away day.
    I took one of my best friends (a REAL Man Utd/part time Derby County fan) to the game as part of our annual get together and he commented on how great the Boro guys and girls surrounding us were; I have to agree.
    I was sat on the front row of the upper section near the stairs down to the concourse and those around me were an absolute credit to the club conversing with everyone (even if they didn’t know one another) singing along and generally being a plaster cast mould of what a real football fan should be. Quote of the day from a chap of about six who was with his Dad “That referee is a right pillock”
    I came away from the ground with a glow that one of my best mates with no emotional connection to the team even threw himself into celebrating the Boro goals and joined in with the non partisan songs- i.e “you’re going home in a taxi” to the small contingent of Birmingham ultras high on the right hand side. I was so proud to be part of what Kamara has dubbed #BoroNation
    When I heard about what had gone on it actually tarnished completely what otherwise would have gone down in one of my top five away days ever (I’ve been supporting the club up and down the country since I was seven years old in 1996).
    When will these dimwitted idiots realise that their ‘moral crusade’ to defend ‘I-n-gerland” against anyone who is not white and working class is actually giving the minority of ‘extremists’ the ammunition they need to continue spreading world wide hatred for all mankind?
    Their lack of intelligence is ironic given the person who’s life we were celebrating led the way in promoting peace (albeit after a jail term – which is probably what these neanderthals need) My question to them: If we walked into their house on Christmas Day and set fire to their Christmas tree and presents what would the reaction be? Is it acceptable under the heading of ‘banter’?
    Furthermore, having conversed with most of my Boro supporting friends, what on earth are they thinking doing it in a football stadium while adorning the colours and crest of the club they supposedly love?
    I saw one knucklehead on social media say free speech is his constitutional right. Are we in the deep south of the USA?
    My point is this: We’re not going to change the views of the uneducated, frustrated minority so lets take the spotlight off them once they have been dealt with. Lets focus on the fantastic fans like the ones sat around me on Saturday to promote a positive away day experience for all.
    how about a guest section in the Gazette after each away match for the everyday fan to share their experience of their travels to grounds all over the country? Give a voice to the articulate/passionate Boro fans.
    I’m not saying that each piece has to be a powder puff propaganda campaign for the towns and cities we visit but lets reflect to the masses who read the Gazette what it is like to go to different parts of the UK with the Red Army.
    **AV writes: Get it written and I’ll get it in the paper… the problem we have with this kind of thing is the deadline we work to. I get paid to write over the weekend or overnight to make sure it is in the next possible paper but it is hard to demand the same of volunteers. And once few days had elapsed it all feels a bit dated. We do have the ‘Boro Extra’ on Wednesdays but that tends to look ahead.
    That said, if anyone wants the gig get in touch…

  3. I was stood a few rows down from the perpetrators. It was one young lad who came up the stairs holding paper above his head and egged on by his pals tore and threw it. A few then broke out into the England chant. So sad that the actions of a mindless few can reflect on all of us but it’s right to highlight. Kick them out Boro.

  4. Well said Vic.
    I stopped going to matches in the 70s because of morons like these, along with the heavy-handed oppressive policing. It had become a war zone and a far cry from the family-friendly event I had been introduced to a decade earlier.
    In my more firebrand years I took a stand on equality. As HR Manager with the biggest employer in Brum (ironically), I led on equal opportunites to great effect over a number of years so this incident sickens me. It illustrates how much is left to be done.
    The especially nauseous aspect, which I hadn’t known about previously, was that the Qu’rans (they were Korans when ah were a lad – but then Mumbai was still Bombay) had been given away as part of a bridge-building effort by muslims/moslems (have I gone dyslexic or is somebody changing spellings just to confuse me?). How to alienate people and possibly even to radicalise them.

  5. Good blog AV. Do these people even realise there are muslims on the pitch? It’s just staggering.
    But let’s face it, there has always been an undercurrent of racism among some of our support. When we were in Stuttgart for the UEFA cup game, a bunch of idiots insisted on singing ten German bombers in one of the bars we congregated in.
    Also, and I’m prepared to be shouted down for this, but I always think there is a racist element to the stick some of our players get, for example Hoyte and Emnes. They are no doubt due criticism at some points, but it often seems disproportionate and a local, white lad wouldn’t get the same level of stick.
    People are also quick to pull out the lazy tag as well, which traditionally has a racist connotation.
    Having said all that, I can’t remember hearing anything overtly racist at the Riverside in all the years I’ve been going.
    The march is a cracking idea – unfortunately I’ll be attending my daughter’s dance class show, which means I’ll probably miss the first half of the match as well. Who organises something on the afternoon of a home game?!

  6. This was a religious slur not a racist one. The walk should be about any form of discrimination not just racism. I bet you still get some people in the South Stand who will sing homophobic songs to Brighton fans.
    **AV writes: I’m not sure most of the bigots are that well versed in the semantics and cultural nuances of the situation. But yes, all forms discrimination are wrong.

  7. Borophil –
    I think Hoytes problem was he got a nosebleed as he approached the half way line. It was as if he was a train that had run in to the buffers.
    Emnes? It is hard to say, his languid style goes against him when things go wrong but is that any different to some of the stick Downing got because he didn’t tackle like Catermole

  8. I don’t think we should overplay the incident too much as the perpetrators were clearly just mindless yobs – how is tearing up pages from a Qu’ran a protest against Mandela’s tribute when he was in fact a Methodist.
    It was an unfortunate incident but nothing that had any meaning other than to highlight their own stupidity. If we’re not careful the story will get blown up and then picked up by other mindless extremists who may think some Boro fan has to pay a price.
    OK, unlikely but who knows in these days where there’s plenty of young mixed up people with low self esteem looking to prove themselves as worthy in the eyes of their peers – you just need see the fallout after that crazy american pastor decided to burn a Qu’ran.
    So for me this incident is nothing to do with Boro fans but merely just an everyday idiot trying thinking he was going to impress his friends, who all just happened to be at a football match.
    I don’t think you’ll ever stop isolated incidents from happening even with campaigns like ‘Kick it Out’. I’m not sure if highlighting them actually improves the situation – ignoring attention seekers is usually the best way to deal with them.

  9. Yeah Ian, I’m not trying to say they didn’t deserve criticism at times, but in Hoyte’s example compare the treatment of him to someone like Tony McMahon, an inferior player (and you may say this is opinion, but look where he is now) but who was thought of a lot more highly by some sections. Why the difference in treatment?
    Probably a number of factors, and perhaps I’m being overly sensitive but I just wonder sometimes.

  10. Thanks for this, AV. Superbly written, as ever, and as ever, bang on the nail. We cannot tolerate racism of this kind. Count me in to support the campaign.

  11. The whole event has ironically had the exact opposite effect to the intended one. Whilst it will undoubtedly be associated with Boro in general and consequently we are all tarred with the same brush it did draw a line in the sand and the silent minority proved to be the overwhelming majority.
    The reality is the level of ignorance which led to the incident in the first place probably means that the individual/s involved do not understand why it was wrong and unacceptable. It is sad people can go through an education process and come out the other side so completely socially dysfunctional.
    I would hazard a guess that their misplaced “Christianity” is not based upon ever seeing a Bible or like as not ever setting foot in a Christian place of worship but they don’t let that stand in the way of their love of Engerlund.
    Rather than a sad day for Boro I think it has overwhelmingly proved to be a very proud one. One which seen an ignorant minority quashed in their “Black Shirted” attempt to revisit the worst of recent European history, a history that our and like as not their fathers and grandfathers risked or even gave their lives to ensure we remained free to practice whatever faith we choose.
    Instead of celebrating their Britishness they succeeded only in the complete antithesis, just a shame they will have zero comprehension of what that actually means.

  12. Borophil –
    Fair shout but I actually preferred McMahon to Hoyte at right back.
    In my opinion, for all Hoyte’s athleticism he was not a good defender and McMahon was certainly a better crosser and deliverer of a set piece. Stuff all to do about colour.
    Strachan thought he delivered the best set piece of anyone. Agh, that imediately rules him out of many people peoples thoughts including Mogga.
    But all this is football opinion, McMahon is no longer a spring chicken and neither are at the club.

  13. AV –
    I don’t write on here often, but read every word. Boro fan, born and bred in Teesside. I am currently working in western province Sierra Leone, just a short drive from Kamara’s hometown (the guy is a legend here but I can’t yet convince any of the local guys to abandon Manchelarsepoolcity in favour of the Boro) .
    We are rehabilitating a palm oil mill that didn’t survive the troubles here. For all the challenges facing Sierra Leone we could all learn a lesson from the tolerance between Christians and Muslims in this country.
    That some idiots want to rip up copies of the Qu’oran is just disappointing. This small minority of tiny minded morons don’t represent us. We are all just people, discrimination of any type has no place in the world and we should all know better, if any of us do know people that share these kind of views let’s let them that the world has moved on, get with the program already.
    Well done to the Red Faction for arranging a their march at short notice.
    Up The Boro.
    **AV writes: Top reconstruction work that man. There are members of the Dis-Boro EVERYWHERE. Are mighty Boro getting much coverage over there now we have the Sierra Leone footballer of the year?

  14. “AV writes: Top reconstruction work that man. There are members of the Dis-Boro EVERYWHERE. Are mighty Boro getting much coverage over there now we have the Sierra Leone footballer of the year?”
    Tragically no. I have only met one Sierra Leonian who doesn’t support Man U, Arsenal, Liverpool, Chelski or City (that one guy supported Fulham). I get a lot of “ah Middlesbrough, they used to be good, what league are they in now?” (It’s said nicely but it still stings…)
    There is no coverage of Championship games and you can’t buy second hand Boro shirts so until Karanka brings us back into the PL promised land and we get our share of (South African) DSTV coverage our African profile will be low.
    Never mind, I’m back for Xmas next week and I think I get to squeeze a couple of home games in.

  15. Sierra Leone? We don’t get much coverage in Derby never mind in Africa!
    Sadly the man wont be available so we will get Main or Juke. It will be interesting to see how it works because they tend to play in the middle with Kamara on the wing. I wonder how they will do with two wingers on the pitch.
    The other talking point is the return or not of Jason Steele. The perceived wisdom was that a goalie like Given would shout and point and control his box unlike Jason. Unless I have missed something we are still giving sloppy goals away with an experienced keeper.
    It has only been three games so there is time for improvement but my view is that it is less to do with the keeper than a contribution from the whole of the team.
    The winner at Derby came from a catalogue of errors starting in the dugout with the substitution of Adomah bringing on Varga to stiffen (!!!) our defence.
    Carayol swapped wings and that freed the left side of the Derby midfield. Varga marked spave giving a free chip in to the box. Defenders collided and the ball bounced off Sammon to loop over Given.
    If Given was called Danny Coyne we would have blamed him for being too short – Derby scored against him when he couldn’t reach the ball.
    If Given was called Steele or Schwarzer or Jones we would have blamed him for not coming and clearing the lot out.
    Sometimes it is one persons fault, eg giving away a penalty with the ball running out of the box and tackling from behind or the keeper letting it trickle through his legs.
    Most times it is a combination of errors and the goalies is the most obvious generally because he has been dumped in the brown stuff.

  16. Ian –
    Good point re Given – his shouty-pointiness has not been a panacea for our defensive troubles.
    However, if, as you say, the goals against are generally a combination of errors, then perhaps it is logical that we need a combination of fixes. Perhaps Given’s experience is one of the many tools we will need to combat our defensive generosity. We will never know if things would have been worse without him.
    We will most likely be unable to afford to keep Given beyond his one-month spell anyway, but it’s a tough call as to whether his presence would help or hinder Steele in the long run. It may also be a tough call as to whether we value Steele’s development above the shorter term needs of the team, assuming there is a conflict there.

  17. Looking ahead to tomorrow and I’m wondering what the headlines will be tomorrow night. Will we be seeing “Brighton Rocked” or will our back line play like Brighton Belles. Will we be looking at a Boro team united in its ability to defend or another lame penalty, a sending off perhaps and another comical injury time goal conceded.
    I’m optimistic that Karanka despite the loss of Kamara will be more likely to keep the pressure on late on rather than believe his charges can actually drop deep and defend. Lets hope that we see a turning point tomorrow afternoon.

  18. I think the Works Christmas Party I have just returned from was noisier than the Riverside. Even if the whole North Stand happened to be to be tone deaf, the singing there would be more tuneful than the karaoke songs I have heard murdered this evening just gone.
    My ears are ringing. My senses are scrambled. And it’s not the drink, as some of us try to be sensible. I despair.
    What’s on BBC4, now that Mrs Dormo has brought me home…? Cup of tea first, though. (Middle age has its own way of revealing itself).

  19. Great post, AV. Really nothing to add.
    Personally I have visited the RSA a few times and Mr. Mandela was the person I have respected most in my life. He is an idol for us all human beings.
    I respect Kamara even more now. Let us all remember Nelson’s thought through our lives. I feel we have lost the greatest ever human of our life time. Respect.
    Up the Boro!

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