Former Watford and England footballer Luther Blissett has called for more leadership from managers in the struggle to kick racism out of the game.
Addressing the Annual General Meeting of the Catholic Association for Racial Justice, the former England international, who now works for Show Racism the Red Card (SRRC), suggested that many managers are in denial. “They just don’t think racism exists,” said Mr Blissett, responding to a CARJ member, whose grandson had incurred some racial harassment at a Premiership football club.
Mr Blissett recalled how in one game he played against Notts County, the Watford fans were abusing black players in the opposition side. Then Watford manager Graham Taylor took the microphone at half time, declaring that “we have black players, how does it make them feel.” Mr Taylor also declared that anyone making such comments in the second half would be banned for life.
Mr Blissett gave the example as the way managers can lead the fight against racism, though he himself suffered racist attitudes from coaches, one declaring in November that now the weather has got bad we won’t see you again until the sun comes out again.
The former England international also called for more black and ethnic minority people to be brought into the administration of football. He recalled attending an FA event last year, with around 2,000 people, the only black people present were himself and those serving on the tables. “We need more black and ethnic minority people on the board of the FA,” said Mr Blissett, who as part of his Show Racism the Red Card activities is making presentations at clubs across the land about racism.
During his own playing career, Mr Blissett recalled not only getting racist attitudes from opposing players and managers but from those on his side. “Senior players knew I was after their position in the team and there was name calling from them,” said Mr Blissett.
He recalled his mother being a huge source during these difficult times. “My Mum was brilliant, there was nothing she wouldn’t do for me. I would talk to her about all the problems and she would say: you’ve got to show them you are better than them,” said Mr Blissett, who believes he survived and prospered due to his willingness to stand up to the racist bullies and his increasing value to the club. “When you become valuable to the club, they see the need to protect a valuable asset.”
Mr Blissett believes that the stand that he and other black players like John Barnes and Brendan Batson made also brought black people into through the gates. “A lot of black people love football but at that time wouldn’t go to the games because of the hostile attitudes. When black players came through supporting each other it brought people back,” said Mr Blissett, who also recalled a number of fantastic black players he saw down the years who did not make it because of the racist attitudes they encountered.
Today, Mr Blissett spends a lot of time with SRRC going into schools and talking to young kids about racism. “It can make a big difference to kids after a couple of hours. Kids of seven, eight and nine come up and say I didn’t know those words were racist,” said Mr Blissett. “The message is slowly, slowly getting there, that we need to be tolerant of everyone – all are different and all the same.”
Mr Blissett applauded the action of the AC Milan players who recently walked off the pitch, after racist chanting. He believes that if players took similar action in a Champions League game, then the football authorities UEFA and FIFA would have to act. “This is the flagship tournament. Players have the power to withdraw their labour. If there is no football, what are they in charge of,” said Mr Blissett, who said sponsors can also play a role withdrawing there support when racist incidents occur.
Newly elected chair of CARJ Yogi Sutton thanked Mr Blissett for his revealing talk and pledged the support of CARJ for the work of SRRC.
Among the areas being considered as campaigning focuses for CARJ over the coming months is "working with others to counter racism in sport, particularly football."
CARJ chair Margaret Ann Fisken has now stood down from her position to be replaced by Mrs Sutton.
For more information on Show Racism the Red Card see: www.srtrc.org/