|A portrait of Luis Suarez in black and white|
Due to racism scandals around Luis Suarez and John Terry, football players have once again been in the media spotlight this week for reasons other than their sporting prowess.
On Tuesday 20th December, Suarez of Liverpool fame was handed an eight-match ban by the FA after being found guilty of racially abusing Manchester United’s Patrice Evra.
On Wednesday 21st December, the focus shifted to Chelsea’s John Terry, who was charged over allegations he racially abused QPR’s Anton Ferdinand during a tense match on October 23rd.
As Liverpool learn to live without Suarez, Terry will sweat it out on and off the pitch before a West London court decides his fate in February.
At first glance, it would be easy to mark this as a depressing time for football. However, if these cases are dealt with in the right way it could do the world of football a lot of good.
Suarez's harsh punishment and the seriousness of the charges around the England captain suggest the ugly side of football is no longer being swept under the FA's dusty carpet.
Football players are being increasingly targeted for their behaviour and, one hopes, this is primarily because of the message it sends to the fans.
As role models the actions of footballers, and the reactions to their actions, send powerful messages to football fans.
The fight against racism or any other abuse has to start with the players as they are in the limelight.
Although the extent of racism in the terraces is unknown, general abuse in rife.
All we need to do is look at the way Blackburn Rovers manager Steve Kean has been treated by the clubs supporters to see how far behind football is in the decency stakes compared to other sports.
Passion has often been used as an excuse for awful behaviour from fans. Of course Rovers fans swear at Kean from the stands, travel overseas to hold up signs saying they want him out, jeer at him as he enters the ground – they are just being passionate about their club!
While not all football fans behave badly, foul language will be as abundant on the terraces on Boxing Day as alcohol for many of us on Christmas day.
BBC journalist Phil McNulty poignantly writes this week in his blog about Steve Kean, "The argument goes that supporters pay their money and have the right to air their opinion, but even seasoned observers felt unease at an individual coming under such a barrage. It is called the human element."
The human element is sadly something that doesn't always mesh well with football.
In the 1980s, when hooliganism was rife and England football fans were feared around Europe, many accepted the terrible behaviour of our fans.
For too long people associated with football, whether players or fans, have been able to get away with behaviour that would not be accepted in the office or on the street.
This is a fact the English FA, and the British media, have awoken to over the last couple of years.
More than ever before managers are being fined for criticising officials, players for breaking club protocol, Sky Sports' pundits sacked for sexist comments and FIFA execs banned from the game for... well, all sorts.
Through bans, fines and sackings, a stricter moral code is not just being sent to football players and administrators but to unruly fans. The key message being sent is: respect.
It is something that critics of Steve Kean should maybe mull over their mulled win before staging their next ‘Kean Out’ protest.
And also something Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish should also mull over his mulled wine before he leaps to Suarez’s defence... again.
Because the message of the FA’s lengthy punishment for Suarez is far greater than the effect it has on Liverpool’s Champions League aspirations.
An eight-game ban is a powerful message to any football player or fan who believes that racist terms should be used, ever.
Spies in our midst?
As someone who has attended England international matches, the language that circulates stadiums is shocking. A yob culture does still exist and it is one that can involve homophobia, sexism and racism.
The news that Tottenham Hotspur stewards plan to wear headcams at tomorrow night’s game against Chelsea to monitor "foul, abusive, homophobic or racist language" is a drastic action, but one that should be taken.
Racism is ugly and not what the majority of fans want linked to their sport, but taking nothing away from the seriousness of the issue, there are lots of ugly things associated with the beautiful game.
However, football organisations and the media are now sending messages that this ugliness is no longer acceptable, and about time too.