- The Washington Times - Friday, November 19, 2004

I’m frustrated, baffled and mad.

I’m mad at people who think it’s funny to taunt black soccer players. I’m saddened that a small group — I hope it’s just a small group but I have my doubts — of stupid fans are ruining, what Pele called the “beautiful game” with racist attitudes.

Take a breath — this is not happening at RFK Stadium but in the heart of so-called sophisticated Europe. It’s immature, warped, boorish and pathetic.

During a “friendly” between Spain and England in Madrid on Wednesday, England’s black players — Ashley Cole, Shaun Wright-Phillips and Jermaine Jenas — were viciously taunted with monkey noises and crude chants every time they touched the ball. In recent years, England’s black players have received this kind of treatment in Serbia and Slovakia, but the scale of taunting in Spain, took everyone by surprise.

Sadly it ruined what was a brilliant display of soccer by Spain in a 1-0 win.

So what’s going on in Spain? Is this a return to the Dark Ages?

Well, part of the blame for the recent incident lies at the feet of Spain’s national team coach, Luis Aragones.

Last month Aragones got in trouble when he told Spanish star Jose Antonio Reyes that French ace Thierry Henry was a “a piece of black [expletive].” Henry, probably the best player in the world, is a teammate of Reyes with English club Arsenal. Aragones insisted he was just trying to “motivate” Reyes and make him believe he was better than Henry.

But Aragones never apologized for his remarks, which were caught on TV and caused an uproar in England. The crusty old Spanish coach defended himself in an odd way, saying, “Some of my best friends are black, and they have told me that English people were after them in the days of the colonies.”

That didn’t go down too well either. As if Spain never had any colonies.

Spain’s soccer bosses rushed to defend Aragones. Said Jorge Perez: “Luis is a sensitive man but also a common man and perhaps this is a moment which should be left on the training field.”

Amazingly, Aragones stubbornly refused to condemn the Spanish fans after Wednesday’s game. “I am only interested in talking about football,” was all he could muster before a throng of stunned reporters.

England coach Sven Goran Eriksson was praised for ignoring the nasty taunts in Madrid and keeping his black players in the game, even when the chants got even worse later in the contest.

“The day I don’t send a player on — or take one off — because of the color of his skin, then football is finished. It is over,” Eriksson said. “To be booed when you are not playing well is bad enough. To be jeered for other reasons is awful, simply awful.”

Obviously, a lot of soul-searching is needed to be done to put the game back on the right track in Europe.

D.C. United notes — D.C. United lost defender Ezra Hendrickson and forward Thiago Martins to Chivas USA (Los Angeles) while midfielder Kevin Ara went to Real Salt Lake (Utah) in yesterday’s MLS expansion draft. Hendrickson played in 13 games this season, Ara in six and Martins was injured all year. …

United’s players have been given time off until January, when the team will return to prepare for the CONCACAF Champions League tournament. In that event, United will play in a home-and-away series against a Central American or Caribbean opponent March9 and 16.

Corner kicks — Patriot League champion American University will meet Long Island University at Reeves Field at 1p.m. today in the first round of the NCAA tournament. … South Korean champion Seongnam Ilhwa will visit Saudi Arabian giant Al Ittihad in the first leg of Asia’s Champions League final Wednesday. The return game is in Korea on Dec.1.

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