In his interview with today’s The Yorkshire Post, Kick It Out chairman Sanjay Bhandari points out his organisation is about more than just racism, but it feels like such an important issue this season.
Unfortunately it has always been a problem in English football, and it was much worse in the 1970s and 80s, but it feels like it is rearing its ugly head again.
It seems as if there have been far more racist incidents this season. There was a point late last year when it felt like racism was a big talking point almost every week, and if something was not happening here, it was happening abroad.
The responsibility to stamp it our lies with all of us who love the game.
As Bhandari says, it feels like a lot of people want to do something about the problem, but it is such a complex issue we all maybe need educating a bit more.
It is important everyone knows how to deal with specific incidents before they happen – players, managers, referees, supporters and even the media.
One thing I was pleased to read is that Bhandari wants a collaborative approach. There needs to be joined-up thinking, rather than each body trying to deal with it in isolation. You are only going to be more powerful if you work together more often.
But the most important thing is a plan of action, and I think education is key.
I know our union, the PFA, have made great improvements since, but when I played I do not remember anyone coming to talk to us about racism.
There was one game I played for Leeds United about 10 years ago and we came into the dressing room, where our kit was laid out before the match as usual. As well as our strips for the 90 minutes, there was our warm-up gear but on this day, it was “Kick It Out” T-shirts. It was the first we knew about it, which just shows what the problem was.
Did anyone actually think about why we were wearing those T-shirts, or did they just put them on and get on with it?
As a white footballer, I did not always appreciate the issues some of my team-mates faced.
It was only through a chance conversation with an England colleague that I began to appreciate what it was like being as a mixed-race woman abroad. We were playing in America and when I asked my room-mate if she wanted to go to the shops, she told me she would not be comfortable walking around that area with only me for company.
She was one of my best mates, but I had no idea she felt that way, and I imagine a lot of her team-mates did not either.
I am not saying people would even behave differently, necessarily, but it certainly helps to have that awareness.
When a racist incident happens on a football pitch or in a stadium, I am not sure if we all know what we should do.
There are clear procedures for on-field incidents and when it comes to top-level matches, I think players, managers and officials are clear about them.
The England men’s team showed that when their black players were abused in Bulgaria earlier this season, and will have stood as an example to others, but I cannot help wondering if everyone down the leagues knows how they are supposed to respond. I hope I am wrong.
But it is the fans I am most worried about when things happen in the stands. Do they know what they should do if they witness something, and are they confident doing it?
Supporters have an important part to play when unacceptable things are said.
If I had a group or an individual sat behind me racially abusing a player would I have the courage to turn around and say something? I would like to think so, but I would understand if a lot of people did not.
Some grounds have numbers you can text anonymously to report these things, and hopefully everyone in the stands know them, but I think you then need a trained response team rather than just stewards to deal with it.
You can understand why a lot of football stewards might be reluctant to get involved in something like this, but it needs to be dealt with.
It is a question of where the money comes from, but the Premier League clubs certainly has enough, and a response team would make people feel more secure about reporting these things, which is vital.
Some of the lower-league and non-league clubs might struggle but at least if we can start at the point where we do not see these incidents in our most high-profile matches, it might have a knock-on effect, just as it seems to the other way around.
It is important people guilty of racist and discriminatory behaviour are removed from our grounds, but I agree with Bhandari that it is difficult to keep them away from the game for life. As he says, fans will find a way.
A Chelsea fan banned for life might just get a ticket for another part of the ground and if he cannot, he might go to Brentford, Queens Park Rangers or a non-league game. If that happens, it does not deal with the problem, just pushes it onto clubs with fewer resources to deal with it.
The answer, in my view, is to try and educate these people, although as I have written in previous columns, that can be difficult with someone who just does not think they have a problem.
The suggestion of an equivalent of a “speed awareness” course – showing people the consequence of their actions – is interesting. If you have a room of 10 people, you will not change the behaviour of all of them, but if you have success with five, I think that is worth it.
One thing I am not in favour of is behind-closed-doors matches and points deductions because you can end up punishing fans who are not doing anything wrong for the actions of a few idiots. We in the media have a responsibility too.
When I was covering December’s Manchester derby for Sky Sports News I became aware there was an incident in the stands but I did not know what had happened. If I had, I would have told people about about it, but should I? It brings it to the attention of more people, but there is a danger of some people thinking they can do the same.
It as well and good me saying there needs to be more education but the question is, who is going to do it and more importantly, where will the money come from? Reading that Kick it Out has a staff of 18 immediately made me ask if that was enough for such a big and important job.
They are doing lots of different things besides trying to combat racism, so I would like to see them given more resources so they can help educate all of us.
The Premier League has so much money and I know there are lots of different areas they spend it in but maybe they can show how important the issue is by finding a little more for Kick It Out.
Sanjay Bhandari interview – front of Sports Weekend.