Spanish Football Doesn’t Actually Care about Racism

A year ago, Vinicius Jr was subjected to sickening abuse at Mestalla during Real Madrid’s 1-0 loss to Valencia. It was a huge result for Valencia. Los Che were facing the prospect of relegation and Vinicius Jr et al were in town to hammer another nail in their coffin. It didn’t quite go that way. 

Within 2 hours of kick-off the whole world had seen Vinicius Jr leave the field making gestures suggesting he would enjoy seeing Valencia descend to the second tier. However, we had also seen a man pushed so close to breaking point that it was incredibly uncomfortable to watch. His anger was visceral. But it was the hopelessness of the situation that presented itself in front of him that was hard to watch. Targeted by a large number of idiots, he confronted a fan in the section behind the goal Marmadashvili was defending. He pointed out a supporter who had been subjecting him to racist abuse. Nothing happened. Watching the confrontations between fans and players was unsettling. That the abuse was permitted to continue was abhorrent.

Vini was eventually hooked off by Carlo Ancelotti who would later make an allegation that Vinicius had been racially abused by the entire stadium – and with this inaccurate utterance, potentially lost in translation, the position of many Valencia fans was set.

Fans of Valencia now felt under siege. Instead of condemning the horrible abuse, they turned further against Vinicius Jr. Many now resorted to one of the oldest plays in the handbook – “whataboutery”. “What about Rodrygo? We don’t racially abuse him. Camivinga? Rudiger? Alaba? We don’t make monkey noises at these players!” You see, to a great many Valencia fans, Vinicius is unlikeable and he made fun of them, so really, Vinicius is the problem and whatever abuse comes his way is justified. And it’s not just a handful of fans who feel this way. Journalist with El Correo de Andalucia, Juanmi Vega also feels Vinicius is the problem. Somehow, Vega was allowed to print, and was bafflingly paid for writing this repugnant article where he likens criticism of his columns to the racist abuse suffered by black players in Spain. To Jaunmi, homophobic and racist abuse are just part of the passion of football. He argues that of course, no Valencianista could be racist given that they signed Salif Keita – “The Black Pearl of Bamako” in 1973. (How can I hate women? My mother is one.)
I can understand why he receives criticism of his opinion pieces.

Vinicius is the one with the problem

Has Spanish football got a problem with racism? Led by the Real Madrid club president, Florentino Pérez, the spotlight was turned on “Racist Valencia”. The neutral or casual observer of Spanish football might have thought that finally, people are standing up for what is right. Bollocks. Pérez, like so many others, simply used racist abuse as political capital.

The following weekend his Real Madrid played Rayo Vallecano, a team from the working class Madrid Barrio of Vallecas, where many of the Real Madrid support gleefully sang songs about Gypsies and drug addicts. So much for standing together against racism.

Valencia banned a few fans and they had a small section of their stadium closed for a few games and that was that. In the following months I spent more time than I found comfortable reading comments on Valencia fan pages, consuming posts and comments about Vinicius Jr. It was more of the same – He’s horrible and deserves what he gets. These are just idiots online, right? What remains truly disappointing is the failure of either club or fanbase to really criticise or indeed take appropriate action to correct the repulsive abuse that continues in stadiums in Spain. It is certainly not something I love about Spanish football.

Fast Forward to March 2nd 2024 and we saw the return to Mestalla of Real Madrid and of course, Vinicius Jr. Predictably, Vini was harangued and booed for his entire time on the pitch. Predictably too, Vinicius Jr netted twice in an impressive Madrid fightback. Netflix cameras were in attendance to record every juicy detail and it appears that apart from the disconcerting babblings of a 5-year-old boy, they left empty handed.

So, it appears Vinicius Jr was not on the end of horrible abuse this time around but someone else was. Peter Gonzalez is on loan from Real Madrid at Valencia. He is a young man looking to kick start his career away from Madrid. Peter received in excess of 800,000 messages of abuse, a great many of which featured racial hate. You see, Peter had the brass neck to attempt to score against his parent club, Real Madrid. And so, the depressing cycle continues.

In Spain it’s not unusual to hear people referred to by their race or ethnicity. Or indeed their weight, height or hair colour. The language itself seems to encourage this. They are a people who enjoy a good stare. I’ve never heard so many references to skin colour or place of origin. It’s uncomfortable. Regardless of the intention, comments, remarks and classification regarding race are ubiquitous in Spain. So, why wouldn’t it be so when fans abuse footballers?