x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Problem of racism in football will not go away

I did not join my local team Nottingham Forest because of a racist comment I heard about me when I went there on trial.

Racism in football will never go away. After I voiced my opinion on Twitter this week in the wake of the claim that John Terry racially abused Anton Ferdinand, someone told me to get back on a boat.

That would be a boat to the Caribbean, from where my parents came in the 1950s because they were asked to come to Britain because there were not enough people for all the jobs. They worked hard to make a success of their lives and raise a family in England.

The lad who made the retort later apologised and seemed genuinely remorseful, but he made the comment.

Racism has declined in English football, but it has never gone away. There have been improvements and the "Kick Racism Out of Football" campaign gets people to wear T-shirts and badges for one week a year, but racism in football has largely been swept under the carpet.

I experienced loads of racist abuse as a young footballer in Nottingham. It was hard to take as a kid because I couldn't understand why I was being singled out because of the colour of my skin.

I didn't join my local team Nottingham Forest because of a racist comment I heard about me when I went there on trial. Their loss - I could have scored a lot of goals for them and made them a lot of money.

I was from a generation of footballers who were encouraged to ignore it and get on with playing. I'd get upset a few times and have a little cry in private, but to react on the pitch was somehow a sign of weakness.

I remember going to West Ham United with Bristol City. Someone in the crowd shouted racist abuse, said that blacks shouldn't be playing football.

I turned round and eyeballed him, one of life's failures venting his spleen on a Saturday afternoon. He looked at me and said: "I'm not having a go at you, I'm having a go at your mate."

My mate was Leroy Rosenior, who used to play for West Ham. In the mind of the racist it was OK to racially abuse my teammate who had also played for the team the clown supported. I just laughed at him. I pitied him.

I didn't get the same level of racist abuse as the generation of black players before me. Nobody threw bananas on the pitch at me like they did with John Barnes.

Cyrille Regis, most famously of West Bromwich Albion, will always be a hero of mine because he paved the way for later black players like me to succeed.

He showed fans that black lads could play, but old attitudes died hard - before Cyrille the line was the black players were too 'soft'. That's hard to believe now.

I heard plenty of comments from fans when I played but I ignored them. You'd play away in Eastern Europe with Manchester United and be aware of the racism, but my answer was always to try to play well and score. What else could I do? Go and fight 50 people?

By playing well, what would the racists remember me for? Being black or being a good footballer. Humiliating them by my performances on the pitch was my answer.

Other players have dealt with racism differently. Their personality is different from mine, but I have to admire players like Samuel Eto'o who have confronted it head on by walking off the pitch if they have been racially abused. They have not ignored the abuse, but brought it to the attention of the wider world and humiliated the racists.

Eto'o made the racists in one Spanish city, Zaragoza, look so bad that the mayor had to come out and apologise on behalf of the decent people living there.

If a racist is humiliated then he thinks twice about doing it again.

Players making racist comments should know better, even if some of them have come from countries where racism is far more openly expressed than in England.

I'm not going to accuse anyone until they are proven guilty, but if they are found guilty then the authorities should come down hard on them.

They must be shown up for being the pathetic racists that they are. Only by punishing racism will it be eradicated on the pitch, even if we will never eradicate it off the pitch.


Andrew Cole's column is written with the assistance of European football correspondent Andy Mitten.

sports@thenational.ae