ABSTRACT

In 1988, after Liverpool FC had bought John Barnes from Watford FC, manager Kenny Dalglish attempted to stem the controversy that the transfer had aroused: ‘He’s not a black player - he’s a player’. Defending the signing on terms of Barnes’s quality, Dalglish claimed that the issue of Barnes being the club’s first major black signing ‘was something that had not crossed my mind until it was pointed out to me’.1 The controversy - including the racist chants, the bananas thrown at Barnes during matches, the labelling of Liverpool as ‘Niggerpool’ by some supporters of local rivals Everton - and Dalglish’s diplomatic response offer useful insights into the issue of race and ethnicity in sport in the U K since 1945. As a public arena for physical display and interaction, sport has proved to be a significant location for the playing out of discourses over racial stereotypes, prejudices, politics, and integration. As with gender, the inherent use of the body in sport has meant that popular questions have been asked and answered over physiological differences between sportsmen and women from different ethnic groups.2 Moreover, the twinned issues of constraints and opportunities for non-whites in postwar Britain have been acted out publicly through sports clubs, school sports, and national teams. Time and again, sporting examples have been used by non-sporting agencies and individuals to illustrate integration or difference. From the mass media’s ‘paternalistic infantilization of Frank Bruno and Daley Thompson to the status of national mascots and adopted pets’,3 through to Norman Tebbit’s notorious claims that the patriotism of second-and third-generation black and Asian Britons could be assessed by seeing who they supported in test matches,4 sport’s popular and readily accessible position has ensured that it has played a role in defining issues of ethnicity and race for a wider context.