Alan Hubbard

To coin, or slightly reinvent, a famous old cliché, some of my best friends are Hungarians.

I say this in mitigation of the abuse that has been heaped upon a Country I know well and have always enjoyed visiting, and the friendly company of its citizens whose angst and embarrassment at being labelled a race of racists I understand.

Of course that abuse is understandable in view of the vilification heaped England’s black players, indeed the entire team, when they defeated their Hungarian opposition 4-0 in their own Budapest backyard last week.

I was disgusted as anyone that this should’ve happened in a nation where I have covered several sporting events over the years, from ice skating through to boxing and athletics, making Magyar mates along the way. As it happened I never covered football, where among certain elements around the world, racism remains endemic.

Notably Eastern Europe where ,oddly enough, black faces among ethnic minority groups are a rarity. And we know racism, as well as other forms of discrimination, can be rife in Russia.

Once again this leaves me wondering why football now seems to be the only sport failing to put its house in order over racism, something I have never personally witnessed in any major sporting activity during the last half a century. Certainly not since the Mexico Olympics of 1968 where, in any case the black-gloved podium demonstration of Tommie Smith and John Carlos was actually a protest against racism.

England's FIFA World Cup qualifier against Hungary was marred by racist abuse from supporters ©Getty Images
England's FIFA World Cup qualifier against Hungary was marred by racist abuse from supporters ©Getty Images

The last high-profile incident of racism that occurred in boxing was back in September 1980 when the British world middleweight Alan Minter waned his American challenger Marvelous Marvin Hagler: "I will never lose my title to a black black man." And sparked a riot at Wembley. Minter, of course, was brutally beaten but received only a slap on the wrist from the British Boxing Board of Control. In today’s climate he would have been banned for a long time - possibly for life. Nowadays boxing, alongside track and field, is the most integrated of sports.

As I say, I can understand the annoyance of my Hungarian friends because, as their Foreign Minister has been quick to point out, there is is another well-worn phrase that can be applied to us here in England involving glass houses and stones. Or even more apt, pots and kettles.

Lips should be firmly buttoned here when the subject of racism in football arises, remembering the reaction on social media by the underbelly of neanderthal scum who masquerade as keyboard warriors. This followed immediately after three English players, who happened to be black, all missed penalties which cost England the European Championship. Shameful is an understatement.

It does not seem that there is much appetite in the way of action by those in authority in respect of either incident. No wonder England’s players approach tonight’s engagement against Poland in Warsaw, a World Cup qualifier, cautiously.

The England captain, Harry Kane, has intimated that he may take his men off the pitch should there be a repeat of what happened in Budapest, with the backing of manager Gareth Southgate. We know that Poland, like Hungary, has form when it comes to racism in football.

Footballers in many leagues continue to kneel before matches as an anti-racism gesture ©Getty Images
Footballers in many leagues continue to kneel before matches as an anti-racism gesture ©Getty Images

And we must hope that when the final whistle blows the match is remembered for its football, and not his fans, and that we do not wake up tomorrow morning to headlines about England players again being subjected to racist vilification.

Yet did anyone hear a racist murmur during the Olympic Games or Paralympics? Of course not nor will there be any during the current US Open tennis or any other current sporting happening.

You would think in this day and age any discrimination over antipathy towards the colour of someone's skin would have evaporated by. Obviously not. It lingers and it infests.

Perhaps I should conclude on a somewhat lighter note, remembering happier times in Hungarian sport, coining another famous phrase, this time from the former England football manager Sir Alf Ramsey.

I must point out that it was even before my time, but back in November 1953 England faced Hungary at Wembley. Hungary were the Olympic champions and had a run of 24 games without defeat. They were renowned as the Magical Magyars and included the fabled players Ferenc Puskás and Nándor Hidegkuti who literally ran rings around England slaughtering them 6-3 in one of the most memorable matches ever played in the stadium.

Some years later we were chatting with Sir Alf after an England game when the subject of the match against the Hungarians came up. "Weren’t you playing that match?" Asked one inquisitor of the former Tottenham and Southampton fullback. "Yes," sniffed Sir Alf. "And I was the only bleedin’ one what was!"