“Roughly 35% of Premier League players are black, but less than 1% of the people paid to write about them are drawn from a BAME (black and minority ethnic) background. Because this coverage is mediated largely by white people, we’re all losing something, both in reportage and when it comes to long form features and interviews,” explains freelance writer, Calum Jacobs, editor of the newly published Caricom Magazine.
This disparity of representation in the world of football-related media is the reason Calum, alongside graphic designer Shawn Sawyers, decided to create a publication that explores the space where the sport and the black experience intersect. Caricom aims to “carve a space in football culture writing where BAME people can gain a sense of agency by publishing media that not only has a genuine affinity with the topics discussed, but that wouldn’t necessarily be welcomed or handled sensitively in mainstream football publications,” he says.
Through writing about these issues, the pair intend to use football’s ability to encourage a sense of community among fans of differing faiths, ethnicities and backgrounds to mediate on topics largely absent from mainstream sports media. We caught up with freelance writer, Calum, and graphic design student, Shawn, to find out more about Caricom Magazine and the platform they are trying to create.
Issue one acts as a centralised repository where inspirational achievements, gross misrepresentation, otherness, cultural co-option and the conflict of dual heritage – among a broad range of other ideas – can be examined by the people they affect the most.
Black players have been habitually misrepresented via stereotypes and a tacit mistrust of their temperament and intellect. You only have to consider the way Raheem Sterling is viewed by many football fans to understand that. This misrepresentation is perpetuated by language employed by commentators, writers and broadcasters and it’s caustic.
And many, but not all, BAME people living in Great Britain will identify with feeling a sense of otherness at some point in their lives. It may have happened at school, in university or at work. When you examine that in the context of football, historically, foreigners were viewed as “flashy” and unreliable.
That sense of otherness can lead to conflicting emotions. We’re both the children of first generation immigrants, so are many of our friends. With that comes a common feeling of being unmoored. Do we belong to the country of our parents? Countries we’re connected to culturally and anecdotally, or are we truly British? Even though at times it feels as if this country doesn’t want us. The foreign secretary clearly has no regard for people that look like us. A Tory MP used the (once entirely acceptable) phrase “nigger in the woodpile” and remains in her job, and the Vote Leave campaign was clearly predicated on fear of the “other”. How does a black Briton reconcile these things? We think black footballers feel the same, and believe it goes some way to explaining why players like Alexander Iwobi, Ola Aina and Wilfried Zaha (among others) have elected to represent countries they were not raised in. It’s a trend that will become more apparent as time goes on.
What is it about football, specifically, that encourages a sense of community?
Football has always been integral part of British working class culture – it originated in social clubs, factories and churches – and the sport is still defined by an ability to offer commonality of purpose. At its best, football articulates deep structures of social togetherness and encourages a sense of belonging. You only need to observe the way people become England fans, almost involuntarily, when national tournaments come around, or how thousands of Feyenoord fans commemorated the death of their goalkeeper’s son, or look at the rainbow laces campaign to understand football’s ability to unify. At these times, we’re all in it together.
Tell us more about one story from the issue.
Caricom Magazine Issue 1 constitutes six long form articles and a supplementary essay alongside a photo series by photographer Chris Baker. Chris’ portraits shine a light on the rarely explored, but no less relevant ability of Sunday League football to operate as a third place.
Third places have always been vital communal areas for members of black and minority ethnic communities in Great Britain. Much like barbers, cafes or social clubs, they offer respite from micro-aggressions, negative projection and the feeling of loneliness that still forms part of the black experience. For 90 minutes on a Sunday, these issues are placed to one side while black men, who during the week are cosseted by the unique demands of their lives, are able to connect, grow and socialise freely.
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