Changing times

KEITH BRADFORD -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 7:18 AM ET

It took me eight years to convince my best friend to watch an English Premiership game in a stadium instead of on TV.

He never was a huge soccer fan, but the fact he's Asian meant the prospect of sitting alongside several thousand boozed up bigots wasn't exactly enticing.

How times have changed.

During a visit to England in August, I persuaded him to watch Southampton's game against Bolton at the new St. Mary's Stadium.

When I first started watching soccer in England as a kid, racist chants, monkey noises and the booing of black players were commonplace.

But as my friend and I watched the Saints being outplayed by Bolton, it hit me just how successful the "let's kick racism out of football" campaign has been.

A few rows down from us, there was a line of about 20 people sitting together in Saints shirts. A couple were white. Most were Asian.

And a few seats across, a black fan was cheering on with his young son. A decade ago, all I would have seen was a sea of white.

The racist chants I'd feared were also as absent as my team's chances of scoring a goal.

There's no doubt, as the furor over the racist chanting that marred England's recent "friendly" in Spain showed, that racism still exists in the game - as it does in society.

But don't be fooled into thinking that the recent incidents are evidence of a resurgence of the problem within the game.

What those events prove - or rather the outrage surrounding them - is that racism has become socially unacceptable. And those subjecting others to racist abuse are no longer feared or protected by other fans.

So let's not fall into the trap of calling for teams that suffer racist abuse to refuse to play. That would give a vocal minority the power to pull the plug on any game.

Instead, authorities should continue to use the law as a deterrent. And slowly but surely, the fans themselves - by continuing to report racism in stadiums - will drown out a voice that's no longer welcome in sport.

Just call him Socra-freeze

Maybe they should change his name to Socra-freeze.

Because that's what the Brazilian legend - otherwise known as Socrates - was doing during a bizarre cameo appearance for a non-league English soccer team.

The 50-year-old who retired 14 years ago recently played 12 minutes as a substitute for Yorkshire club Garforth Town. And suffice to say, he didn't exactly feel at home.

"I couldn't handle the cold," he told the Guardian newspaper. "The minute I went outside I had this splitting headache."

Socrates made the one-off appearance in front of about 1,000 fans as part of the club owner's attempt to promote his Brazil-inspired soccer schools.

But judging by his performance - one shot and five very frosty touches - any fan would surely deduce that Samba skills and Yorkshire soccer schools go about as well together as, well ... 50-year-old Brazilian legends and Garforth Town.

Becks missed his chance

You've got to feel sorry for David 'tattoos r us' Beckham.

The marketing machine and part-time Real Madrid midfielder recently turned down the chance to star in an Inspector Clouseau movie. Alongside Beyonce Knowles.

The decision apparently means he's finally concentrating 100% on soccer.

But given his recent poor form for Real, thousands of fans have now been left wondering whether putting every one of his brain cells into soccer was such a good idea.

And why anyone married to Posh Spice would turn down Beyonce.


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