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Opinion: Racism in Bulgaria was horrid - but we mustn't let it mask our own issues - even at our beloved Carrow Road

PUBLISHED: 12:02 15 October 2019 | UPDATED: 13:57 15 October 2019

Match referee Ivan Bebek (left) speaks to England manager Gareth Southgate and Tyrone Mings with regards to racist chanting from fans during the UEFA Euro 2020 Qualifying match at the Vasil Levski National Stadium, Sofia, Bulgaria. PA Photo. Picture date: Monday October 14, 2019.

Match referee Ivan Bebek (left) speaks to England manager Gareth Southgate and Tyrone Mings with regards to racist chanting from fans during the UEFA Euro 2020 Qualifying match at the Vasil Levski National Stadium, Sofia, Bulgaria. PA Photo. Picture date: Monday October 14, 2019.

PA Wire

It should be a night that highlights just how far we've come in the world, instead events of the last few days have left me wondering whether much has actually changed.

Laurie Cunningham, Leyton Orient FC Photo: PALaurie Cunningham, Leyton Orient FC Photo: PA

Later on this month a play will take to a stage in Norwich telling the amazing life story of footballer Laurie Cunningham.

During the 1970s and 80s Cunningham was one of the most talented and exciting footballers around, dazzling many with his wizardry on the ball and ability to get past a man and score a goal.

However, in the eyes of some he was regarded as lesser of a player simply because of the fact that his skin was a different colour. He was abused regularly and repeatedly, but still managed to carve out a fantastic career playing in front of some of the most hostile crowds around.

The play has been commissioned by Kick It Out, an organisation promoting equality in football, and is being put on as part of Black History Month.

And any of those watching it would no doubt like to do so content in the knowledge his type of experience is alien to the world we live in now.

Sadly it isn't.

Sadly and shamefully over the last few months the problem of racism has reared its ugly head once more in football and its stadiums.

We've seen reports of black players receiving abuse in certain parts of Europe, while scenes during England's game at Bulgaria have shamed both the home nation and our much-loved sport once again.

It's now vital the powers that be in world football and in those countries inflicted by these types of people take stronger action, not only to sanction those behind the attacks, but attempt to educate them as to why what they are doing is so wrong. My fear is any efforts will fall on deaf ears.

But I'd like to look at whether racism closer to home and in our own football crowds is as rare as we all hope it to be.

The aftermath of Monday night's shameful criminal attacks (for that is what they are) has rightly led to great condemnation from the UK's media and football commentators. But some have also pointed out that perhaps we need to honestly analyse our own problems, before we become so quick to condemn others.

In general I believe we've come far in this country to lessen the number of racist incidents in our football grounds. Whether that's because people are more tolerant or simply that we've managed to silence them remains to be seen.

But we can't claim it's been totally eradicated and just last year Kick It Out's own figures raised concerns of a rise of complaints about racism in football.

And sadly I know it can be as likely to happen at our own beloved Carrow Road as at other grounds in the UK.

I remember a few years ago being in the Barclay end when a 'supporter' was giving a black Norwich defender absolute hell and it was clear there were racist connotations to what he said. At the time I wrote in this very newspaper that it had saddened me I hadn't stopped him.

Meanwhile, just this week I was having coffee with a friend, who happens to be black and is also a regular to Carrow Road, who told me a fellow fan nearby would often make racist remarks, or at least remarks with racist connotations, then clock he was nearby, apologise with a bit of a smile and carry on as if that made it alright.

The sad, but understandable, thing is my friend said he had given up trying to educate that person and explain to him why what he was saying was offensive. Fortunately these people are in the minority.

Don't get me wrong, I do think we've come far. In general football stands are nicer places to be than ever before and some of the anger previously contained within them has lessened.

But we appear to be in an era where communities and people from different walks of life can sometimes appear ever more divided.

And, through channels like Facebook comments, you wonder if there is a growing rage in some against others just for the simple 'crime' of being different or having a different view.

Therefore it's vital we do not become complacent or let this problem grow once more.

* Getting The Third Degree by award winning playwright Dougie Blaxland will be staged in Norwich at The Maddermarket Theatre on Tuesday 29th October. For tickets call 01603 620 917 or visit www.maddermarket.co.uk

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