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Football Hit Home

July 15th, 2021

In the wake of a wave of violent racism, after England lost the Euro 2020 final - we want to extend our empathy to the players affected and to all those triggered by the reports of abuse. For every young person who saw themselves in Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho, Bukayo Saka in that moment, and are probably still feeling the pain of the news: we stand by you. 

Ubele staff and people across the sector and country are unfortunately, yet again, not surprised. Let’s highlight one tweet, that was so accurately summarised by footballer Tyrone Mings; what the present reality is for any anti-racist programming in football to try and prevent such harm:

Credit: Twitter/@OfficialTM_3

Credit: Twitter/@OfficialTM_3

Priti Patel and the Conservative leadership of this country, all co-signed The Sewell Report to deny that racism exists, despite the stark realities brought forward by the Black Lives Matter movement last year. Yet here we are again, saying the same thing, the same thing being denied at the highest level. We reiterate, again, we RejecttheReport and call on Priti Patel, Boris Johnson and the Conservative administration to take accountability for the racism they deny and perpetuate. Any efforts for anti-racism by corporate bodies like The Football Association - can be immediately undermined in the denial of racism by the UK government. This abuse did not come “from abroad” as some spokespeople are suggesting- it is endemic and inherent in the UK and British Football culture that we can’t deviate or distract ourselves from.

At Ubele, we convened an impromptu staff-led conversation to ask the question: if this is happening at the international league level - what could be said for people at a local level? What is happening in community teams or in communities surrounding stadiums?

Some people shared their memories and present life realities of engaging with football and football culture as Black people. By sharing some here and with each other, our intention is to lift silence on our collective stories at a local level and keep in mind, this reality does not just affect premier league professional footballers alone. Trigger warning: racial abuse.

“My Black working class family lived in Deptford, adjacent to Bermondsey. Millwall was our nearest football club. When Millwall played at home, we were made to lie low and stay at home; their local and national notoriety as an overtly racist club, with supporters chanting “We are racist and we don’t care” reinforced by attacks by local skin-heads... later on as a result of National Front and British National Party (BNP) marches and further attacks. I felt real fear as a child. My freedom was curtailed by the knowledge that there was danger just around the corner - that we could be severely beaten, even killed, by mob culture, because of the colour of my skin.”

“I am from a family of footballers in Liverpool and my dad was semi-pro 50 years ago. I have heard loads of stories of racist abuse being hurled at my dad and other Black players, then my brother- who was also a keen footballer a generation later. In my Dad's days it was kind of expected, but he always says that because he was such a good footballer the fans were largely ok! The abuse he got was from other teams from areas where there were no Black people. In media reporting from the time he is always referenced as one of two great ‘coloured boys/players’.”

“As a young teen, I was told my cousin of mixed heritage, had been banned from football for life as a teenager! A referee called them a stupid black b**** and they reacted by headbutting him. I remember feeling quite confused that they were so severely punished for their actions with a lifetime ban, for refusing to apologise the the referee. The referee got away with the verbal abuse. I always think what a great athlete they could have become. If this were to happen today, I wonder if the end result would be any different? We currently have a few young players in the family who wish to play professionally in the future, my hope is that by the time they do (they would be around the same ages as Saka, Rashford and Sancho) the experiences of the past few days will be a thing of the past. We hope.”

The Good News: people are speaking out and we are seeing a spotlight on racist abuse in football in ways that we haven’t seen at this level. This morning, we felt a small sense of relief to see other famous figures speaking out on this topic and actually hearing white celebrities take ownership and admit to the truth of racism in football.

We know, sport has the power to influence. Sportsmanship, are values that Black and minoritised communities know a lot about.

This piece is a reminder that racism is systemic and it doesn’t appear to have gone anywhere, we are dubious anything will happen overnight. We know this is also evident at a local level where there are less cameras and media attention. It is just as important.

Saka, Rashford and Sancho most certainly have had their setbacks, but let them serve as a reminder for young people of what is possible despite hate. To those who are striving for dreams people may have told you weren’t possible, or made you feel as though you weren’t welcome - we want to remind you that it is all possible. Working on your talents, playing to your strengths, aiming high and being the excellence you are; can’t ever be stopped by hate.

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