Clarke Carlisle on racism, homophobia and England’s World Cup chances

Eleanor Simmons 19 February 2014

Clarke Carlisle is a former professional footballer who was Chairman of the Professional Footballers Association and is an ambassador for the Kick It Out scheme, which works towards equality in football. He spoke to TCS Sport about the state of English football today…

What do you think are the biggest challenges facing football today?
I think that football’s largest problem is about the stereotypical and prejudicial thoughts with regards to homosexuality. The prevalent thought is that the homosexual man doesn’t have the courage, physique or mentality to play football, which is a million miles from the mark and needs to be challenged. Conversely, the stereotypical image with the women’s game is that they are homosexual and the only reason they want to play football is because they are gay; 86% of people think that most ladies footballers are gay. The issue is confronting this prejudicial thinking about homosexuality and LGBT.

What do you think are the best ways to tackle these problems?
It’s all about the freedom to speak and debate and discuss. People are wary of these issues for a fear of being labelled racist or militant or homophobic or liberal, when the reality is there are so many grey areas. I’m not talking about perspectives or attitudes, but about language use. Not knowing, you tiptoe around it because you don’t want to offend anyone but we don’t know what is acceptable and unacceptbale and why. We need to get everyone’s views out in the open. That’s when you get interaction, education and awareness and we can move forward together.

Why did you get involved with the Kick it Out scheme?
I can’t tell you how I initially got involved because my personal experience is of very little or no racial abuse. Not in my time at school, nor in my career playing football. It probably came from my faith. Along my journey with Kick it Out I’ve seen that my experience wasn’t the norm.  You start to see what is going on and you want to try and help. I want everyone to be treated equally I believe that everyone should have equal opportunities.

Do you think England have a chance in the World Cup?
Chances are somewhere between slim and none. My hope is that they win the world cup, but looking at the reality of the situation I think that Roy Hodgson should choose a very young squad; he should choose emerging talent and let them experience tournament football, and then come back and get ready for 2018. Looking at the young talent that we have in England we have to agree that they’re not ready to win the world cup. They are fantastic prospects, but they don’t have the savvy, or match management, awareness and responsibilities of the older players. My expectation is that we’ll do well to get out of the group.
Should we limit the number of foreign players in the premiership?
A club in the premier league needs an immediate fix, so if they’re in trouble or if they want titles it is rare that they’ll choose young lads to play. This causes problems because clubs corral all the finest talent in the country from the age of under 8. It’s brilliant – they’re getting the best coaching – but when they get to 16 they’ve got zero opportunity. In a football club there’ll be 29 exceptional young players who won’t make it because they fall under the umbrella of a club who is unlikely to give them an opportunity. Young players would be far better placed going to a championship or league one club because the opportunity of playing consequential first team football, which is the only way to develop, will be immeasurably higher.

Do you think football clubs do enough to support local talent?
No they don’t. They corral the talent, but the first cut off point is 9 years of age. You cannot decide on the future of someone so young.  Thousands out there have had their psyche destroyed by football. Getting so far and committing themselves to the detriment of education or alternative opportunities and then being discarded and football clubs don’t think it’s their responsibility.