Racism - still a problem?
Published: March 31, 2010
When I first encountered racism in the League of Ireland I was a young inexperienced and naive lad playing with Bray Wanderers. I can remember it well. A ball was played forward for me to run onto, I managed to get to the ball first and clip it past one of the opposition players, but as I touched the ball he completely missed it and caught my trailing leg. I went tumbling down to the ground as the referee blew his whistle for a free kick. What happened next took me by complete surprise.
I was still on the ground feeling the effects of the tackle when the player leaned over and said: "Get up you black b*****d". I jumped straight up off the ground, in complete shock and amazement and confronted him and asked him to repeat what he had just said. He simply replied without hesitation, "you heard me you black b*****d".
I couldn’t believe it. It was cowardly, spineless and simply racist. My manager at the time heard what had happened after the game and asked me if I wanted to make a complaint. I thought that it was best not to make a huge uproar about it as I was still young and un-established within the league.
There have been other racist remarks that I have received from opposition fans. I remember being called a Muslim so and so because of my connection with Tunisia. In another game, I was called a "shoe-bomber" - again because of my Arabic roots. I have to be honest though; fortunately, I haven’t received too many racist remarks in my time playing League of Ireland football.
Before I continue, let me give you a brief outline of my mixed race background for those of you who don’t know. My Dad is from Tunisia and my mother is from Ireland. I was born in Dublin and have represented the Irish National Team at U-20 and U-21 level so I have always thought of myself as being Irish, although I am proud of my African roots and would never shy away from the fact that I am half Tunisian. Years ago, when I was growing up and I was playing schoolboy football, I stood out from the crowd slightly given my tanned skin colour and I therefore received quite a few racist remarks.
These days, however, Ireland has become a home for many different nationalities and that is seen on the football field too. The league here has seen some exceptionally talented foreign players in the past 10 years due to this cultural diversity we now see in Ireland. Joseph Ndo, a former Cameroon international, is probably the most gifted footballer to ever play in the League of Ireland; Wesley Charles, an ex-St.Vincent and the Grenadines international; and Charles Livingstone Mbabazi, a Ugandan national, and one of my favourite ever League of Ireland players, who was with St Patrick's Athletic.
At the moment, I am involved with the FAI in the "Show Racism the Red Card" campaign. The campaign was set up to help educate people and promote anti-racism in Ireland. By using the profile of sport and professional sport players including the likes of Cork hurler Sean Og O hAilpin, Ireland international Kevin Kilbane, Sligo Rovers' Joseph Ndo and myself, Show Racism the Red Card aims to teach young people about racism, integration, and acceptance of others. The campaign also aims to engage the public by raising awareness about racism.
In April of last year, the FAI and Garrett Mullen, co-ordinator of the Show Racism the Red Card programme, launched a Show Racism the Red Card poster campaign with the aim of promoting anti-racism in schools nationwide. A DVD was made as well which has been shown in schools right across the country. As far as I am aware it has been a huge success.
I also want to mention one of my team-mates, Conan Byrne, who is heavily involved with Sporting Fingal in visiting schools in the Fingal area and talking to kids about anti-racism. If we could get more players like Conan visiting schools and educating youngsters, providing them with role models, then it would be great. We have a job as footballers not only on the field but off the field as well and as the old saying goes: "actions speak louder than words".
So does racism still exist within the Airtricity League? I hope not. And I hope we all can show racism the red card.