The Premier League season is barely a week old and already the welcome return of action on the pitch is being overshadowed by accusatory headlines trawling the depths of racism, sexism, antisemitism and homophobia.
Malky Mackay has denied all of those allegations, while at the same time admitting responsibility and apologising for a handful of offensive text messages that even the most eloquently persuasive advocate would have had difficulty explaining away. The League Managers Association is clearly not that, and its appallingly ham-fisted initial attempt to exonerate the former Cardiff manager and make light of some weighty charges not only gave the story fresh legs but once again put the whole of football in the dock, under suspicion of harbouring prehistoric attitudes towards what the LMA coyly referred to as “other cultures”.
That’s gay people, women, Asians and Jews to everyone else in the modern world, but football is so far behind in these matters that a frontline representative organisation such as the LMA could study a series of damning insults to all of the above sections of society and file them under the heading of friendly “banter”.
Before the LMA’s unhelpful intervention, Mackay was simply in a stew of his own making. Along with his former technical director Iain Moody he was involved in a vengeful spat with Cardiff owner Vincent Tan, who against all expectation was emerging as the good guy in a long-running dispute, even if he did bide his time before choosing the exact moment to scupper Mackay’s chances of a new job at Crystal Palace.
For the past eight months since his sacking at Cardiff, Mackay has been regarded as an injured party, an innocent victim, a decent manager denied a fair chance by a maverick owner. We know slightly differently now. Mackay will be lucky to find top-level work again after owning up to some of the texts in a damage limitation exercise, Moody even more so, but neither could blame anyone else for their indiscretions. Poisonous as the texts may have been, it was an isolated issue and Mackay and Moody were about to pay the price in public and professional opprobrium.
Step forward the LMA, with a statement that effectively said that’s all right lads, we know you didn’t mean it, this is football and grotesque errors of judgment can usually be swept under the carpet. Almost unbelievably, the original LMA release described Mackay’s texts as “with the benefit of hindsight, very regrettable”, then argued that at a time when he was under great pressure the manager was merely “letting off steam to a friend”.
No wonder pressure groups such as Kick it Out and Football Against Racism in Europe were outraged. Not only were the LMA attempting to defend the indefensible, as FARE’s Piara Power succinctly put it, they appeared to suggest that anyone under pressure might seek a release by contacting a friend to exchange a few casual racist or sexist remarks.
“Somebody drafted that... WOW!” was the Twitter reaction of tireless anti-racism campaigner Jason Roberts. “Why would you put out something so utterly ridiculous?” Power asked of the LMA, before supplying his own answer. “Because you haven’t a clue.” It seems a reasonable conclusion.
The question now is: What is going to be done about it? Cardiff City have called for the resignation of Richard Bevan, the LMA chief executive, over a statement they described as “entirely reprehensible”. It is difficult to disagree. Bevan either signed off the statement, which makes it his responsibility, or he was unaware of it, which does not make his position any more tenable.
It is unclear whether an FA investigation will bring any charges against Mackay and Moody over private texts, the organisation having recently overlooked Richard Scudamore’s remarks on the grounds that they were never intended for public consumption, but in the long run it scarcely matters. Both men have already been damaged, they have lost positions through their actions and are likely to be stigmatised for some time to come.
The LMA’s communication on the other hand was not private, it was a public statement, a formal positioning of a respected football agency on an important issue, and it was so hopelessly wrong it had to be torn up and replaced with an apology the following day.
Apologies are all very well, but the damage has been done and even now there is a sense that Bevan and his organisation do not fully appreciate the seriousness of the matter or the scale of their misjudgment. Had Scudamore or Greg Dyke issued such a crass defence of insupportable behaviour in an official capacity they would be toast by now. The LMA is supposed to speak for football, or at least a significant part of the professional game. If it cannot do better than this then the bright lights and vibrant colours of the new Premier League season are merely a distracting facade, a misleading cover for an industry that remains in the dark ages.