Sue Smith: Football cannot be left alone to deal with racism problem

Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson lifts the Champions League trophy.
Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson lifts the Champions League trophy.
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As 2019 draws to an end it gives us a chance to look back on a great year of football, and to look forward to what 2020 might bring.

My biggest hope for next year is that football can get to grips with the racism problem that has marred 2019, although it will need some help.

It is only a couple of weeks ago I was writing about the issue in this column after a couple of high-profile incidents, and depressingly there have been more since.

I hope football is not left to deal with it alone. It needs more help from the police to deal with those who are abusing footballers for the colour of their skin, where they were born, or anything else for that matter.

Sometimes I feel sorry for the stewards at these games because at times you wonder how much they can do.

I can understand why individual fans would be worried about confronting the problem in the stands, so I hope we see more initiatives where they can anonymously report these incidents by text without having to fear for their safety.

Better stewarding and policing costs money but if we can just clamp down on it at the most high-profile level, hopefully it will stop copy-cat incidents in the lower leagues.

Something else we have talked about too much in 2019 is VAR.

I was a real advocate of the video assistant referee system when it first came in, so I just hope we can get past the teething problems it has had in the first half of the Premier League season.

It was awful in this year’s women’s World Cup but when I went to a VAR training course in the summer I was assured it would be much better in the Premier League because they had been given more time to work on it, and because the officials would know and trust each other.

The game needs to learn from sports like cricket and rugby, and how they keep those in the stadium better informed.

It was a really positive year for the growth of women’s football and I am hoping for a good Great Britain performance at this summer’s Olympics.

The Olympics is an event all sports fans watch, and a good showing by Phil Neville’s team can take interest in the women’s game at international and club level to another level again.

As for the men, I hope England’s clubs do well in the Champions League because I think it will have a knock-on effect at the European Championships.

Gareth Southgate has so many good players to choose from there will be difficult choices when he picks his squad. Now he has rebuilt the connection between the team and the fans, I am optimistic of England’s chances.

One big factor in their favour is the amount of experience the players have of big matches, whether through being part of the squad which reached the 2018 World Cup semi-finals, or at club level after Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur reached this year’s Champions League final.

With all four English clubs reaching this season’s knockout stages, something similar this year could do wonders for the confidence and experience within the squad.