Ruel Fox: I first encountered racism at Norwich City – even in our dressing room
- Credit: Archant
It wasn't that I didn't want to play for Ipswich. It was about the opportunity that I was offered at Norwich, the way they made it clear that they wanted me, and my gut feeling, which was that, at the time, Norwich were a little bit ahead in football terms.
But I can't lie about what happened, and I have to say the first time I encountered racism to any great extent was when I started playing for Norwich, and some of it came from lads in my team.
Ipswich was a safe place in terms of racism. There were a lot of people from Afro-Caribbean backgrounds. On my estate alone it was probably 30pc black people and our school team had about five black lads in it. I knew about racism, of course, but never came across it really. Then I got to Norwich and I was the only black player in the team.
Norwich had devised this scheme for a team that was a mix between youth players who weren't getting a game on the Saturday, trialists and schoolboys they had signed. The team played in a men's Sunday league. It was full of hung-over pub team players, and the last thing they wanted was some nippy youngsters scooting around them. So they would often try and stop us with fouls. I can kind of understand that and it was a growing up process for me. I started to hear quite a lot of little snidey things like, 'Pick up the blackie' and that sort of thing. There wasn't too much of the n-word but it wasn't right. Ronnie Brooks, who was there for me at every match, would get involved if he heard anything and my brother Lennie was often having a go back at someone while the game was going on.
Just before I signed as an apprentice, Norwich asked me to go on a youth team tour because I was doing so well for the Sunday team. I didn't have a passport, so my mum had to rush about and get me one organised. I was really excited, but when I joined the tour group, Dale Gordon and me were the only non-white players. No disrespect to Dale, but he is from an Indian background and is light-skinned.
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There were little, nasty comments from some of the youth players towards me about me being black. I went to Ronnie and told him. He went to the players and sorted it out. And Mark Farrington, who was in the team as an over-age player, confronted some of them about it for me. So there were people dealing with it.
If Ken Brown ever heard about any of the stuff that went on, he would always crack down on it. I could stick up for myself as well, though, and fronted some of them out about it. There is no excuse for that sort of thing. It used to upset me when Norwich fans said racist stuff to opponents. I'd look at them and they'd sort of go, 'Not you Foxy', as if that made it all right.
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As a youngster, to get it from boys who were meant to be on your own side in a match was certainly not nice, but as soon as I started to get further along with my career, the same ones were on the phone to me asking me to get them tickets. Some of them are on my Facebook page now and they must know that I remember what they were like.
It was things like switching the light off in the room at night and saying, 'Who's the odd one out?' and that sort of thing.
But I have never confronted them on Facebook and said, 'I remember what you were like when I was a schoolboy'.
My story speaks for itself, though. I progressed so quickly that I wasn't around these players for long and before I knew it, I was in the first team at 17 and some of these lads were now my apprentices, cleaning my boots. I don't forget the stuff that went on, even now.
It is part of who I am and what I had to overcome.
• Volume two of Mick Dennis' Tales from the City is out this weekend