Is Roy Hodgson racist? He’s clearly not. Naive? Yes.

Deploying the word “monkey” anywhere near a black player is bound to raise eyebrows, given its frequent and insulting use by oiks, thugs and undesirables.

Would Hodgson have used the term were Andros Townsend – the most exciting thing to happen to English football in years – a white player? Maybe – maybe not.

17 andros g w Andros is a star, but not a space monkey

Even Roy Hodgson won’t be aware of how deeply and subconsciously his own mind may – or indeed, may not – have linked the brownness of a player’s skin with humanity’s simian ancestors. We all carry heavy linguistic baggage.

Let us briefly acknowledge the layers of prejudice that inform some of these assumptions – astronaut = intelligent, informed, controlled, human. Monkey = emotional, impulsive, untamed, animal.

It’s entirely possible that for Hodgson, the two are completely unconnected. But for society at large – indeed sewn through the English language – they are indelibly linked.

Hodgson should have known better. He’s a polymath, and also what you might call “a decent bloke”. But he’s also known to suffer from a touch of the tin ear.

One should be cautious judging a person by their past but some have remarked how the young Hodgson ignored the sporting boycott of apartheid South Africa to pursue a career in football coaching. He wasn’t aware, he later said, of the political situation there.

Hodgson has been every bit the professional and mentor to England’s most promising young players. And consider how many of them are “black”, or “brown”: Theo Walcott. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Raheem Sterling. The new-found strike force that is Welbeck and Sturridge. Chris Smalling (who, incidentally, Hodgson was addressing when equating Townsend to the metaphorical “space monkey”. Hodgson and Smalling, of course, are a near identical shade of mid-brown).

The players – black and white – appear to like and respect him.

Now it would surely be refreshing if we no longer lived in an era where once offensive terms had been sufficiently cleansed to allow their free and ready use.

Trouble is, we’re not there yet.

Many black and brown people automatically wince when words like monkey are – however innocently – used in conjunction with how they should or should not go about their business.

But one should not doubt that Hodgson didn’t intend to cause offense. This was no heinous crime. His choice of metaphor was, however, ill thought-through. It was, in a word, disappointing.

Now there is a time and a place to make a fuss about language with racist connotations. This, however, is not it. The inevitable charge is that those causing a fuss are just the PC brigade snuffing out creativity and vision.

In truth it is probably more an indictment on society, than a window into Roy Hodgson’s sub-conscious understanding of race.

Hodgson has said sorry. Townsend has said he took no umbrage. And it was, apparently, England’s white players who leaked the story.

This debate should remain exactly that: a debate – not a “telling off”.

For the sad part is, as allegorical tales go, it’s quite a handy one.

That England had finally found an energetic, natural, exciting way to play. That put at it’s heart the kind of fearless football all England fans of every hue so desperately want to see – England players evidently enjoying their game, gliding off each other with exuberance and joy.

“…feed the monkeys and don’t touch anything” = “if it ain’t broke – don’t fix it!”

But Hodgson should have seen this Nasa space monkey issue coming from the off. And he should have found a different way to deliver his half time pep talk.

Roy – note to self: when referring to black players, please don’t use the term “monkey”.


Nasa decides to send a shuttle into space with two monkeys and an astronaut on board.

After months of training, they put all three in the shuttle and prepare for launch. Mission control announces: “This is mission control to Monkey One. Do your stuff.”

The first monkey begins frantically typing and the shuttle takes off.

Two hours later, mission control announces: “This is mission control to Monkey Two. Do your stuff.”

The second monkey starts typing like mad and the shuttle separates from its empty fuel tanks.

After another two hours mission control announces: “This is mission control to astronaut…”

The astronaut interrupts, shouting: “I know, I know – feed the monkeys and don’t touch anything!”

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