‘Racist fans should never be allowed at football again’ - Sue Smith

Victim: Manchester United's Fred reacts after objects are thrown at him during the Premier League match at the Etihad Stadium.
Victim: Manchester United's Fred reacts after objects are thrown at him during the Premier League match at the Etihad Stadium.
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“Not again!” That was my first thought when I was covering the Manchester derby for Sky and another racist incident broke out. It feels like every time I am on there at the moment there is some sort of racist incident, yet every time another one happens I am still shocked by it.

READ MORE - Sue Smith on giving managers time

England manager Gareth Southgate (left) speaks to the players with regards to racist chanting from fans during the UEFA Euro 2020 Qualifying match at the Vasil Levski National Stadium, Sofia, Bulgaria. (Picture: Nick Potts/PA Wire)

England manager Gareth Southgate (left) speaks to the players with regards to racist chanting from fans during the UEFA Euro 2020 Qualifying match at the Vasil Levski National Stadium, Sofia, Bulgaria. (Picture: Nick Potts/PA Wire)

That was my first thought when I was covering the Manchester derby for Sky and another racist incident broke out. It feels like every time I am on there at the moment there is some sort of racist incident, yet every time another one happens I am still shocked by it.

At the time, I was not aware of the racist abuse toward Manchester United’s Brazilian midfielder Fred, just the objects being thrown at him and Jesse Lingard.

It is hard to imagine what goes through someone’s mind when they abuse a footballer like that because it is so obviously wrong.

Manchester City dealt with it very well, making a statement straight away to condemn what happened. Their players went over to the crowd to try to defuse the situation and Pep Guardiola made a point of speaking to Fred on the pitch at full-time. If your own side are reacting like that, surely you must realise something is wrong.

Dean Henderson, the Sheffield United goalkeeper, was victim of abuse that affected him. (Picture: Simon Bellis/Sportimage)

Dean Henderson, the Sheffield United goalkeeper, was victim of abuse that affected him. (Picture: Simon Bellis/Sportimage)

But the fan concerned, Anthony Burke, was unrepentant on Facebook, claiming he was not a racist in a post that has since been deleted.

When the Italian newspaper, Corriere dello Sport, recently wrote an ill-judged “Black Friday” headline to preview a match featuring Inter Milan’s Romelu Lukaku and Roma’s Chris Smalling, they followed it up with an article saying they did not mean any offence, and would continue to write that way. After the disapproving reaction of the two players involved, would you not just come out and accept you got it wrong?

I have been at games and heard fans dishing out awful personal abuse, and them not seeing anything wrong in it.

I think education is the most powerful tool football has in its fight against racism, but when you hear things like that, you wonder if it will work for everyone.

So more severe punishments are needed, too. Individuals – I will not call them fans – who do this sort of thing should never be allowed to watch a game again. It might be society’s problem but it is football’s, too. We have to do more to minimise it.

After all the things that have happened in the English game this season, we cannot just pretend it is only a problem in other countries, either.

Just because some footballers get paid huge amounts does not mean they have to put up with the sort of abuse none of us would stand for in our work places. When it comes from your own fans, like when Chelsea’s Tammy Abraham missed a penalty in the European Super Cup final shoot-out, it must be even worse.

You speak to players in the 1980s and they would just get on with it. Former Leeds United defender and Bradford City manager Chris Kamara believes players should just take it and not show they are affected.

Personally, I think it is a step forward that footballers are speaking up about it.

If they just shake it off and say it does not bother them, does that make it okay, even though we know it is wrong?

Likewise, some people argue that when you leave the field – as England’s players did twice in November’s Euro 2020 qualifier in Bulgaria – the racists are winning.

I just go back to my playing days and if one of my team-mates was being abused, I would want to protect them like that. It is good that there are procedures in place, at least when it comes to racist abuse.

Football is also making an effort to stand up to homophobia through the rainbow laces campaign.

But they are not the only types of abuse.

This week, Sheffield United’s 22-year-old goalkeeper Dean Henderson was talking about the horrendous personal abuse he had to endure at Elland Road and Hillsborough last season.

READ MORE - Dean Henderson opens up

You would hope Henderson speaking out about how the abuse affected him for “two or three months” will make fans think twice before chanting things like that next time, but will admitting it affected him encourage others?

Where do you draw the line?

Personally, I do not mind a bit of booing at games and I do not think most players do. Henderson also talked about enjoying the banter he got at Carrow Road last week.

When I go to a game as a fan, I want to have fun. A bit of banter is brilliant so long as it is not taken too far.

So many great things happened at the weekend but when we should have been enjoying the skill and quality of Son Heung-min’s goal for Tottenham Hotspur, some of the attention was diverted to the news that he too was racially abused by a 13-year-old following Burnley.

I think most of us know the difference between right and wrong, and should just think about that before we start dishing out abuse to footballers. For those that do not, education is essential.