After news broke last weekend of Arsenal’s pursuit of Leicester City striker Jamie Vardy, there have been two common queries of the move.
One of them is a solely footballing question, and one of them isn’t.
The first query is how a player like Jamie Vardy, someone that’s been using his searing pace as his biggest asset would be able to use that asset whilst playing for a team that has to deal with playing against defences that camp on their own 18 yard line.
The second query is about a person like Jamie Vardy, who is a racist.
You’d imagine that most of the focus would be on the first query.
Arsenal, needing a striker to at to challenge Olivier Giroud for a spot in the starting lineup, have been trying to play with a target man up front ever since Thierry Henry left in 2007.
Signing Jamie Vardy would signal a departure from that strategy.
Would that mean more time as a striker for Alexis too?
Is Theo Walcott’s days playing through the centre truly over?
Will Arsenal now try to counter-attack more than they have in recent years, following the trend of clubs like Leicester City and Atletico Madrid?
There are so many avenues for discussion that signing Vardy would open up, yet it always comes back to the same question;
‘But how can you cheer for a racist?’
It is remarkable how, in an attempt to distinguish ourselves as better than any other club in the world, we want to believe that our players are holier than thou, and that our club wouldn’t put up with the behaviour that other clubs ‘let’ their players act with.
We are ‘The Arsenal’, right?
We want to think our club is better than everyone else, so when somebody else’s player turns out to be racist or homophobic or ignorant or just a moron in general, we mock them, with the implication that that sort of thing just wouldn’t happen at our club.
It’s just another string to the bow that we use when engaging in the life-long argument that is football.
But when the roles are reversed, we don’t like it. Not one bit.
We don’t like having to try to defend the indefensible, to justify the inexcusable.
So when someone of questionable character like Vardy is linked to the club, teeth are gritted and sharp breaths are taken, because in our mind’s eye we can already see the figurative minefield we are about to walk through.
Arsenal fans don’t actually care that one of the players that they may be signing is a racist, they care about having to justify cheering for a team that has a racist playing for them.
They care about being linked by association with him, that because we cheer for a team that has a racist playing for them, we also must be racist.
Here is a quote from Daily Cannon’s editor and grand fromage, Lee Hurley, in his column about Vardy this week;
‘I hate what he said but know I’ll cheer his goals and I dislike that part of me, the part that is willing to set aside social transgressions to support my team.
‘We shouldn’t have to do that just to be football supporters.
‘I can only hope that Vardy really has learned his lesson.
‘There will be no second chances at Arsenal.’
There, in a nutshell, is the moral dilemma that Arsenal fans have put themselves in.
We’ve spent so long incorporating so many factors into what makes a victory in football an ‘actual’ victory, we’ve lost sight of the reason why football clubs are playing in the first place;
Over the last few years, Arsenal have done hugely commendable work in dealing with discrimination in society, and deserve immense credit for doing so. But ultimately, these are secondary issues.
Arsenal Football Club’s primary goal is to win football matches, and they should explore any and every possible option that helps that goal.
If that means signing a racist, then so be it.
Simple mathematics dictate that Vardy wouldn’t be the first racist to play for Arsenal, nor the last. For all we know, we may have been cheering for someone who has been secretly racist all his life, but kept it private.
Does that make us any more racist for supporting them? Of course not.
If an Arsenal player makes a gesture that is racist, homophobic, or in any way ignorant, whilst representing the club in public, then he should be fired, in the same manner any of us should be fired at our workplace for similar behaviour.
But in the same way that someone shouldn’t be fired from their job for being a racist in private, because that person has the right to think what they want just like everyone else does, Arsenal shouldn’t prohibit themselves from signing a player just because that player is racist in private.
Obviously there would be many knock-on effects from bringing someone in that has a conviction like Vardy has, such as how will the dressing-room feel about him being there, for example. But if he comes in, shows contrition, works hard and does his job, they’ll work with him, just like anyone else.
As for the rest of us? Yes, seeing someone that has acted as reprehensibly as Vardy has in the past, live out our dream and play for our club, won’t exactly be pretty. But again, if he comes in, shows contrition, works hard and does his job, we’ll cheer for him, just like anyone else.
Will it be because we’re defending him as a person? No. Will it be because we like him? No. Will it be because we’re racist like he is? Don’t be daft.
If Jamie Vardy scores for Arsenal, I’ll cheer just as loud as if anyone else had. Why? Simple. To paraphrase the great Tony Adams, I won’t be cheering the name on the back of the shirt, I’ll be cheering the name on the front.