Michael Houston

By the time this is published, football clubs across England will already have started their social media blackout in a joint effort to confront discrimination and abuse in sport.

Swansea City were the first club in the English professional league system to roll out such a movement, announcing it would stop posting on social media for a whole week to stop online abuse.

Instead of regular updates during matches and content in the build-up to their matches against Millwall and Sheffield Wednesday, it was just blank.


Scottish champions Rangers followed suit soon after, although disappointingly, restricted this just to the accounts of their players and staff and not the club social media platforms - but this was still better than nothing.

Rangers' response followed the alleged racist abuse towards their midfielder, Glen Kamara, in a Europa League match with Slavia Prague.

Czech defender Ondřej Kúdela was said to have called Kamara a "monkey", with the controversy surrounding the incident spilling over onto social media where Kamara faced online abuse for his claims.

Swansea City, Rangers and Birmingham City all held their own blackouts, but the latest could be the first with real impact.

All English professional football clubs - including in women's football - will stop using their social media platforms from today at 3pm GMT until Monday (May 3) at 11.59pm.

No goal updates, no funny GIFs of your favourite players, no cringe overuse of emojis by the clubs' communications team.

Scottish football clubs will join this campaign alongside clubs from other sports including rugby and cricket.

While these campaigns are at least addressing the issue, we should not be stopping here.

Football has always been political and fans have long been a part of grassroots initiatives to force change within the sport, but that rarely extends to the boardroom. 

For example, traditionally working-class clubs like Celtic and Liverpool have majority shareholders who have never experienced poverty, nor seem interested in doing much about it.

When fans held banners stating "refugees welcome", Board members were voting for or endorsing parties who were imposing tough restrictions on these vulnerable people.

That is why this latest campaign and the recent Super League debacle can be viewed as football's opportunity to move into an enlightenment period after decades of rampant commercialisation. 

Yet, while the media and fans will be giving clubs a pat on the back, there is still a lot of work to do on the pitch too.

Yesterday, Albion Rovers forward David Cox posted a video on Facebook announcing his retirement from football at the age of 32.

Cox stated his intention to quit the sport at half-time during his club's Scottish League Two match with Stenhousemuir, following allegations of abuse from opposition player, Jonathan Tiffoney.

A mental health advocate who has spoken openly about attempting suicide in the past, an emotional Cox said he was done with the sport, accusing Tiffoney of taunting him over his attempt.

Although on the substitute bench when the alleged remark was made, Cox had previously stated the next time he faced mental health abuse, he would leave the pitch - and in this case, left the ground.

To the credit of Albion Rovers, they stated they were fully behind their player while Stenhousemuir, a team who have proudly shown off their work in mental health with the local community, are referring the incident to the Scottish Football Association.

Tiffoney refuted the accusation, meaning this incident could come down to hearsay rather than concrete evidence, which makes it difficult to reprimand behaviour on the pitch.

The racist abuse that Glen Kamara and many others have faced and the mental health abuse that Cox is alleging is a sign that we all need to do more to stamp abuse of any kind out.

First, let's talk about the governing bodies.

As has rightly been pointed out, Kúdela's 10-match ban was shorter than that of England full back Kieran Trippier, who was handed a 10-week ban spanning 12 matches for breaching betting rules.

This does not abscond Trippier's misconduct, but rather highlights how serious governing bodies take racism.

All of the talk about "stamping it out" cannot be taken seriously when UEFA, FIFA and any other National Federation is not providing a harsh punishment for abusers.

Uruguayan striker Luis Suárez infamously received an eight-match ban from the Football Association for racially abusing Patrice Evra and the following season received a 10-match ban for biting Branislav Ivanovic. 

Historically, racism has not been taken seriously on the pitch and nothing will change until a player's livelihood is considerably at threat - it should not take vigilantism on Twitter to hold clubs and players to account.

Secondly, fans are complicit in all of this.

Abuse at football matches has become an accepted part of the game, but should we accept racism, homophobia or anything related to mental health or personal abuse?

Too often these incidents have had to be picked up by a photographer or broadcaster, while many fans turn the other way to monkey gestures, racist chants or mental health abuse.

Fans have been key to making football the sport it is today with its grassroots campaigns and activism, so a zero tolerance to abuse from spectators is necessary.

What I'm suggesting would still allow you to call Joey Barton every swear word under the sun, but would kindly ask you not to send him death threats.

Third and finally, clubs have to be decisive.

Stenhousemuir could release Tiffoney if he is found guilty - which would be the right kind of move to stop this abuse on the pitch in future.

But not every club has put principles before profit or performance.

For all his flaws, Suárez is one of the best strikers of the 21st century and Liverpool never considered releasing him unsurprisingly.

Slavia Prague are appealing Kúdela's ban while doubling down on the Kamara incident and contradicting their accounts of the situation.

Until clubs are willing to fully cooperate and hold their players to the same accountability that any other employer would, we will struggle to see anything change.

A zero tolerance policy towards hateful conduct from spectators needs to come into effect too - if you're racially abusing a player or sending them death threats, you should not be welcome at a football ground.

When investigating Cox's past with mental health, it was startling how many footballers have spoken about their own issues with mental health and how much clubs need to support their players.

The likes of Gary Speed and Robert Enke have committed suicide after glowing careers, while others who are fortunately still with us like Paul Gascoigne continue to suffer from alcoholism partly due to depression.

Not only should they protect them from exterior forces, but also support them within the club - providing sufficient mental health services for all staff.

Turning their social media accounts back on on Tuesday (May 4) should not be the end of activism for clubs - there is a lot of room for improvement and this collective movement over the weekend should show the power football can have to influence change for the better.