Red letter day for football - 18/01/2004
Continuing the anti-racism work at NUFC
Ten years ago football officials and anti-racism campaigners started a scheme to remove the sport's biggest stigma and make the beautiful game accessible for everyone. As Newcastle United fans cheered on the team's first season in the Premier League, with striker Andy Cole banging in the goals, the Professional Footballers' Association and Commission for Racial Equality were meeting to discuss ways of combating the spectre of racism which haunted the game. Monkey noises and racist chants towards opposition players often rang out in grounds around the country during the 1980s.
Relations had improved at the start of the 1990s but the dark spectre of racism had still not disappeared.
The Kick it Out Campaign was formed with the aim of eradicating racism from all levels of the game and quickly won backing from all sides. Since 1993, the campaign has worked tirelessly to promote its message in schools, communities as well as professional and amateur clubs.
Next week, officials from the football's governing bodies, politicians, players and grassroots campaigners will be rubbing shoulders at London's Great Eastern Hotel to celebrate the work which has taken place.
Among them will be Ged Grebby, of Show Racism the Red Card, which was started in 1995 by the Toon's then goalkeeper Shaka Hislop and has received support from Kick it Out.
Ged said, thanks to efforts like the campaign, football grounds in the North East have seen a complete change in attitude since the dark days.
The Newcastle United season ticket holder explained: "In the late 1980s there were tremendous problems with racism at St James' Park, Roker Park and all the others in the region and football in general.
"Take one example, Sunderland's former captain Gary Bennett who said there were 30,000 people at St James' making monkey noises in a crowd of 38,000. "We will never know if that was the case but there was an overwhelmingly oppressive atmosphere of racism. "We even had Kevin Keegan recall how the National Front were handing out leaflets at the ground.
"In the 1990s we had a complete reversal due to a number of different factors.
"The rise of black players like Andy Cole were key, along with the rise of fans' groups and the actions of the clubs themselves. "Kevin Keegan put something into the match programme against the National Front and Peter Reid called the BNP the scum of the earth."
As the number of black players at the top level of the game increased making it harder for the racists to find support on the terraces. The campaigners also found support from white players like John Beresford and Warren Barton to get their message to the fans. A tough line from clubs who now eject `supporters' for racist language, anti-racist legislation and a tireless education campaign have also developed during the past decade.
Ged said the effects of the Kick it Out campaign have definitely had a positive impact on the game's standing. He added: "Given the small size of the campaign, in terms of resources, it has had a massive impact in terms of the people who are now aware of it. "Every football supporter knows that if you racially abuse a player or supporter inside a football ground you are likely to be told to shut up or be dragged out of the ground. Anti-racism has been the winner." But Kick it Out's work continues as incidents of racial abuse continue to surface. The latest involving Port Vale midfielder Andreas Lipa who has been fined £500 by the FA for making a racist remark to Plymouth Argyle's Jason Bent. But, as society changes, so Kick it Out's campaign moves on with plans for a new video on asylum seekers featuring United stars like Lomana Lua Lua and Shola Ameobi. Ged added: "The main form of racism now seems to be directed towards asylum seekers. That's the next battleground for us. "It's the same old story of picking on people who are different and trying to make out they are alien. That's what they did with black people. Before that it was the Irish and the Jews."
Paul McMillan, Newcastle Evening Chronicle
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