Un­der-12s side prove grass-roots is­sue with racism

Youth coach tells Jim White why her ex­pe­ri­ence high­lights fail­ure to tackle prob­lem out­side of elite

The Daily Telegraph - Sport - - Final Whistle -

ast week­end at ev­ery L Premier League game, ban­ners were flour­ished pro­claim­ing “No Room For Racism”. On sta­dium screens, videos played show­ing prom­i­nent play­ers in­sist­ing there was zero tol­er­ance in the game for racist abuse of any kind. It would sim­ply not be ac­cepted.

June Kelly might be for­given if she had watched the pub­lic de­mon­stra­tion of such re­solve with a wry smile. Be­cause June, who founded the Abra­ham Moss War­riors grass­roots club in Manch­ester 20 years ago, has just found that, at its low­est level, the game seems in­ca­pable of mount­ing a proper re­sponse to racist abuse.

Last March, June was on the touch­line watch­ing her team play a league game. The War­riors are based in Cheetham Hill, such a multi-cul­tural area of Manch­ester that, be­tween them, the 450 chil­dren and 200 adults who play reg­u­larly speak 29 lan­guages.

June es­tab­lished the club in 2000 hop­ing that for many of the first­gen­er­a­tion im­mi­grants in the area, foot­ball would pro­vide a step on the path to in­te­gra­tion. But what the coach heard as the game pro­gressed was some­what less wel­com­ing: one of her play­ers was be­ing re­peat­edly racially abused by an op­po­nent.

“That wasn’t the first time; it was a bad sea­son last sea­son,” she re­calls. “Of the 19 sea­sons we’d run the club, we had the most in­ci­dents. All told, we had eight oc­ca­sions when our play­ers were be­ing called the p-word and the n-word; one of our Asian lads was asked by an op­po­nent where his sui­cide vest was.”

So dis­turbed had June be­come by the in­creas­ing lev­els of rou­tine abuse, the next time it hap­pened she de­cided to act. At half-time in the game she spoke to the op­po­si­tion man­ager. He ig­nored her. She told the ref­eree what had gone on. He said he had not heard any­thing, so would con­tinue with the game.

So she rang the lo­cal league or­gan­iser. She was told that the league would sup­port her if, fol­low­ing any fur­ther in­ci­dents, she took the play­ers off the pitch. When the same player was abused in the same way by the same op­po­nent again, she took ac­tion. Af­ter in­form­ing the ref­eree, she in­structed her play­ers to walk off.

“I didn’t care if we for­feited the game, that wasn’t the point,” she says. “It was just I couldn’t al­low my play­ers to be sub­jected to that sort of abuse.” It is worth say­ing at this point that the game was in the lo­cal un­der-12 league. The lad be­ing abused was just 11 years old.

But it is what hap­pened af­ter­wards that made June think Satur­day’s noisy in­sis­tence on zero tol­er­ance was just hot air. Be­cause noth­ing hap­pened. She called the lo­cal league or­gan­iser,

‘I was banned for tak­ing my play­ers off – they told me I was be­ing dis­re­spect­ful’

who made a com­plaint to the lo­cal Foot­ball As­so­ci­a­tion. But no ac­tion was taken.

Per­turbed by the lack of move­ment, she con­tacted the equal­ity and in­clu­sion or­gan­i­sa­tion Kick It Out, which took up her case with the Foot­ball As­so­ci­a­tion. The Manch­ester FA was in­structed to in­ves­ti­gate the case. And, even­tu­ally, af­ter five months, the abu­sive boy was banned for five matches. But that was im­me­di­ately over­turned on ap­peal. As for June, she was in­formed she had been banned for a match.

“I got dis­ci­plined for walk­ing off,” she ex­plains. “They told me I was be­ing dis­re­spect­ful and they had no al­ter­na­tive but to is­sue pun­ish­ment. But I’d told the op­po­si­tion coach, I told the ref­eree, I spoke to the league. What else am I sup­posed to do to pro­tect my play­ers if no one does any­thing?

“How does that seem fair? It was the first time in 20 years I’d ever been dis­ci­plined. But they said they had to fol­low the let­ter of the law.”

In which case, if they are to take their own ini­tia­tive se­ri­ously, the or­gan­is­ers of our game at the grass roots need ur­gently to re-ex­am­ine their pro­ce­dures. Be­cause at the mo­ment the ex­pe­ri­ence of Abra­ham Moss War­riors’ un­der-12 team sug­gests there is one rule for the Eng­land play­ers on the field in Bul­garia and an­other en­tirely for young chil­dren hop­ing to have a bit of fun on a Sun­day morn­ing.

Stick­ing to­gether: June Kelly (left) with play­ers from Abra­ham Moss War­riors in Manch­ester

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.