“Racism is something created and anything that has been created can be undone.” Samuel Eto’o
“I’ve had it numerous times. More times than I can count. It has certainly slowed down recently but the battle isn’t won. People still need educating.” Jason Roberts.
“I’ve never heard or seen a racist problem in English football…Racist problems between players don’t exist”. Fabio Capello
“Where’s your bunch of bananas?” and “Show us your passport” were the jibes Richard Offiong and other witnesses claim were directed at him towards the end of the recent Blue Square North game between Colwyn Bay and Blyth Spartans. Offiong, a much travelled former Newcastle United and Hamilton Academicals player who has studied part-time for a degree in law, went public with his allegations via Twitter and formally reported the matter to the FA. “We are aware of what has been said and will be making our own internal enquiries,” Bay chairman Bob Patton, who had earlier described the claims as “rumours and gossip”, said in an official statement released by the club.
Many will call this an isolated case and, like the recent allegations against John Terry and Luis Suarez, point to the fact that the truth remains to be proved in a court of law. But what exactly happens when a player is found guilty of using racial abuse? In the case of ex-Premier League forward Trevor Benjamin, the perpetrator gets a token fine and a four match ban and the victim waits a year before anyone bothers to tell him the result.
In September 2010, Benjamin, then player-manager at Northern League side Morpeth Town, was called a “black fucking cunt” during a game against Darlington Railway Athletic. Although the player involved denied the offence, there were sufficient witnesses, including Benjamin, the Morpeth physio and Laurence Appleby, the club’s secretary and assistant manager, for the matter to be referred to both the Northumberland and Durham FAs. At a subsequent hearing the Darlington RA player was found guilty, fined £50 and banned for four games. The decision was not communicated to Benjamin until November 2011 when, after an article appeared in the national press, he received a telephone call from the Football Association. By then, the ex-Leicester City player had left Morpeth and was working for the north-east based Show Racism the Red Card. The Darlington player is still at the club. In a recent discussion of the incident on a forum popular with Northern League fans, some RA supporters adopted a similar attitude to that adopted by Fabio Capello. “Trevor Benjamin also grabbed our goalkeeper’s balls, therefore sexual harrassment” alleged one. “Four game ban for something that wasn’t on a referee’s report. Heat of the moment” wrote another. Heat of the moment? As Darren Lewis recently wrote, “That kind of phrase is either in your vocabulary or it isn’t.”
Racism may have decreased in recent years but, as in society as a whole, it has never gone away. 81% of respondents to a Football Unites Racism Divides poll recently answered yes to the question ‘Does racism exist in English football?’ Eleven years ago, a survey of players at grassroots clubs in West Yorkshire found that raicsm was considered “part and parcel of the game” by black and Asian players and that racial abuse was commonplace in “heat of the moment” exchanges on the pitch. “Too much is made of this black/white thing,” was the majority view expressed by the white players in the Leeds Metropolitan University study. “In football everyone is the same.”
Easy words to say but of no use to men like Trevor Benjamin. No ifs, no buts, no excuses. “Black or white, we all have football under our skin” Euesbio once said. There’s no room for discrimination of any kind in the game. It’s time we stopped pretending. Maybe then we can really stamp it out.