In the wake of events in Serbia, and John Terry's crocodile tears, Jason Roberts has decided to boycott anti-racism group Kick it Out, which ED finds bizarre at best.
Reading striker Roberts, one of the Premier League's more eloquent and outspoken players, said "I think people feel let down by what used to be called 'Let's Kick Racism Out of Football'. People don't feel like they have been strong enough."
He went on to say he would not wear their t-shirt, and would encourage team-mates to follow his stand.
Kick it Out is a pressure group, a combination of campaign and grass-roots organisation seeking to change attitudes towards race in Britain, and abroad — FARE, the pan-European equivalent, is closely linked to it and reports incidents of racism or sectarianism to UEFA during continental matches.
Kick it Out cannot impose punishments on clubs, cannot fine players, cannot ask anyone to do anything other than say the right things to oppose discrimination. Blaming them is the equivalent of blaming homeless charity Crisis for failing to eradicate homelessness, blaming Save the Children for failing to eradicate child poverty.
If Roberts has a problem with the way the FA handled the John Terry and Luis Suarez cases (which ED thinks the FA got pretty much got spot on, with the exception of deferring to the LAW on Terry), he should protest the FA; if Roberts is angry at the paltry £32,000 fine UEFA meted to Lazio for making monkey noises during a Europa League match at Tottenham, he should protest UEFA.
Let's take Serbia as a case study of systemic organisational failure in dealing with hooliganism and racism, seeing as it's the flavour of the week (and these incidents seem to be happening on a weekly basis).
The response of Serbian football to the disgraceful scenes in Krusevac on Tuesday- a response of defiance, denial - vindicated Early Doors decision to go on the offensive against their national federation, and highlights the problem facing football. Federations cannot and have not dealt effectively with racism and hooliganism without government interference or UEFA and FIFA suspensions, so how on earth can a pressure group make anything more than marginal gains?
ED felt that the FSS, as it is known, had already set a conciliatory tone towards racism and hooliganism merely by appointing Sinisa Mihajlovic as the senior national team boss; nothing the FSS has said since Tuesday has changed this stance - it apportioned the blame to England's under-21 players, and had the nerve to single out Danny Rose for criticism.
ED won't make a comparative study of Serbian football's claims in relation to the full chronology of events, as it would likely exceed its word limit and send its early morning readers to back to sleep.
But the FSS and main on-pitch protagonist Nikola Ninkovic have insulted the intelligence of everyone who has seen the video footage by changing the order of events, blaming Rose and denying outright that there was any racism on view.
ED will grudgingly discount the undoubted fact that fans monkey-chanted Rose throughout the match — if, as Serbian apologists have tried to claim over the past few days, a laissez-faire attitude to racism due to a lack of non-European immigration means we cannot judge the Serbs by the same standards we judge ourselves, then it is perhaps unsurprising that the FSS are denying that Rose was in any way a victim.
It is clear who the aggressors were, and the sequence of events is also clear. Clear to everyone apart from a. racists, b. Serbian 'Ultras' and c. The FSS.
So can we conclude that the FSS is packed with racist Ultras? Perhaps not. But one thing that is clear is Serbian football's governing body has no control whatsoever over hooligans in the Balkan country.
The FSS is weak, riddled with corruption and absolutely terrified of the Ultras, the hooligans who bring their internecine club bickering to the international stage, fighting and abusing opposition players, fans, police and each other.
Regarding corruption, the FSS — which is widely reviled in Serbia — recently suspended two whistleblowers for six months. Whistleblowers — the guys calling out the match-fixers and the cheats.
Third division player Dragisa Pejovic was suspended in March after he spoke during a FIFPro seminar on Eastern Europe; last year, former Serbia and Montenegro international Boban Dmitrovic was slapped with a six-month ban for a similar 'offence' at a FIFPro meeting in Greece. The FSS even tried to launch criminal proceedings against Pejovic but was pressurised not to by FIFPro.
What was the offence that this pair committed? They complained about match-fixing, and intimidation by club officials, hooligans and gangsters (the three appear interchangeable) - and the FSS's utter lack of interest in fighting these criminal elements in football.
A former top-flight defender who decided to quit the professional game after suffering years of intimidation, Pejovic's FIFPro statement is particularly depressing: "Football in Serbia is full of crime and criminals and I could not cope with, nor fight, them alone. The criminals in Serbian football always look after their own interests first and use all means to achieve their goals, while the players have to keep silent and suffer, since we do not have any protection from the state and its officials."
Is the FSS complicit in all this, or just weak, running scared? Both, probably. The FSS is so pathetic, so cowed by the violent elements in Serbian football, that it tried to move a recent qualifier against Belgium from Belgrade to Novi Sad, because warring fans of Partizan and Red Star were considered likely to racially abuse the Belgians, fight among themselves and attack Serbian players of rival clubs. They didn't try to clamp down on hooligans, to ban the offending parties, but to run away from them. FIFA refused the short-notice switch, so it was left to Mihajlovic of all people to plead for calm.
As Serb apologists have taken pleasure in pointing out (and in doing so missing the point entirely), English football was once blighted by racism and hooliganism, and occasionally such incidents resurface. They are missing the point because — thanks to a combination of UEFA and government action — such incidents have been largely stamped out and, when they do occur, the book is thrown at the guilty parties. Roberts feels the Terry incident showed the English do not have their house in order, but he was taken to court, stripped of the England captaincy, banned for four matches, and accused of 'damaging football' by the head of the FA. He was dragged through the gutter and his international career is over - and rightly so.
Back to the Balkans, and ED has been reading the Serbian press reaction with some interest — it is almost entirely critical of the home fans, the players, and the FSS, although Rose is accused of inflaming the on-pitch situation. It has accused them of insulting the intelligence of Serbs and jeopardising any potential application to join the EU — which in itself suits the nationalist sentiments of Serbian hooligans nicely.
"Unfortunately, we don't have Maggie Thatcher," Bosko Jaksic, a columnist for the conservative daily newspaper Politika, told Reuters. "This country hasn't solved the problem of hooliganism at any scale at all and hence some Serbian fans think it's legitimate to voice racist slogans because they think it's no worse than booing or jeering. They don't understand the difference, they don't realise the real dangers of racism and we will have to face the consequences as well as learn some very tough lessons."
UEFA staff and coaches at a recent seminar. The organisation has been criticised for failing to take a stand against …And that is what is needed — a combination of UEFA, FIFA and government action, in which the latter has to take the lead. As the English found out in the 1980s, only punitive measures — such as the five-year UEFA club ban — work when dealing with thugs and fascists, and interference is vital, as federations lack the means and the interest to confront supporters. These punishments must be accompanied by serious reform by the nation's government — not their FA — in order to prevent major recurrences of these problems.
National federations have time and time again proved themselves incapable of dealing with hooliganism without UEFA, FIFA or government pressure, so what hope is there for an independent lobbying group such as Kick it Out?
In all countries, hooligans are characterised by their defiance, their hatred of society, their pathological and irrational conviction that their team is somehow more worthy of oxygen than others, that to kill or be killed in the name of football is somehow compatible with a civilised society. And no more so in Serbia — remember, it was football firms who shielded Bosnian Serb war criminal Ratko Mladic as he evaded justice for 16 years, football firms who showed constant and unwavering support for Arkan and Radovan Karadzic, who with Mladic is on trial at the Hague as we speak.
The FSS is toothless and spineless and quite possibly as rotten as the core of Serbian football hooligans; the country's government is hamstrung by FIFA statutes that interference in federation business will result in suspension from international football.
But Serbia's senior national team is failing miserably under Mihajlovic's management — the 3-0 loss to Belgium was compounded by a humiliating defeat to tiny neighbours Macedonia — and it has almost no chance of qualifying for the 2014 World Cup, with Croatia (no angels themselves) and Belgium already well clear in the group.
Seeing as suspension is looking ever more likely — Michel Platini threatened Serbia with a ban after the infamous Genoa riot that saw a match with Italy cancelled — the nation's coalition government should use this as an opportunity to wade in with a root-and-branch reform of the FSS. But UEFA will need to force its hand.
"It would be very tough because the whole of Serbia would be paying the price for what a bunch of hooligans did in the Krusevac stadium but a message has to be delivered that the Serbian authorities have to deal with hooliganism much more seriously," the Serbian journalist Jaksic added. "They've been tolerating the problem for years and now racism has come into the picture and it has to be stopped."
Now is as good a time as any for Serbia to withdraw from the international arena and work to solve its problems in football. Outside the Ultras and extreme nationalist elements, there is a public appetite for it. The government needs to take a lead, and UEFA needs to prompt it by backing up Platini's 2011 statements by kicking Serbia out of the world arena for at least one qualification cycle.
Anything less is a cop out — and surely the odd Serbian vote in a few hundred is of little concern to even the most self-serving FIFA and UEFA executive committee?
Over to you, Platini.
Which brings ED back to Roberts. If UEFA fails to punish Serbia suitably, the government will not act suitably — in which case Roberts and his pals would do will to take the protest to UEFA's headquarters in Nyon. But leave Kick it Out alone.
QUOTES OF THE DAY:
"UEFA clowns once again bottled the battle against racism yesterday by fining Italian giants Lazio just £32,000 for their fans' sickening abuse of Tottenham's black stars. The paltry fine came just 24 hours after the 17 white officials who run Europe's governing body were urged to take "the strongest possible action" against the racist Serbian thugs who abused England's U21 stars" - The Sun fights the good fight pt. 1.
"Chelsea today stand accused of blatant hypocrisy and posturing in football's fight to kick out racism. The club made a mockery of their boast of a 'zero tolerance' approach by only fining John Terry for his racist rant at Anton Ferdinand. Terry will not even be stripped of the captaincy - despite putting Chelsea in the middle of a racist storm for almost a year" - The Sun fights the good fight pt. 2.
The biggest derby in German football takes place this weekend, as Schalke 04 take on champions Borussia Dortmund in the Ruhr classic. Schalke's fans have been banned from taking banners into the away ground, but Dortmund star Mario Goetze is injured as the Gelsenkirchen side eye revenge. Should be a humdinger.
Not a great deal of live action today - we have scoring from a Championship derby as Sheffield United take on Leeds - but you can find out more about our European Match of the Weekend as Serie A top dogs Juventus host chasing pretenders Napoli on Saturday, while wise football sage Jim White has his say later on.
while wise football sage Jim White has his say later on.