The experience Black supporters face at football matches

One year on from the shocking racist abuse of Bukayo Saka, Jadon Sancho and Marcus Rashford after the Euro 2020 final, Black football supporters remain concerned about the possibility of experiencing racist abuse.

Prior to the 2021/22 season, research by YouGov found that almost three-quarters (73%) of ethnic minorities who planned to attend a match were concerned about experiencing racist abuse at a stadium. 

The survey also established that around 92% per cent of Black supporters were concerned about witnessing a player receive racist abuse at a game.

Moyo Abiona, a member of England’s first Black female-led football podcast the Goal Diggers, said that although she is disappointed to hear the statistics, she is not at all surprised.

She said: “My personal experience has been fine when I have attended Manchester United games at Old Trafford.

“But from what I have been told by friends that go to football matches it’s no shock that people are actively thinking about the racial abuse they may hear or see before they attend a football match.”

“Ethnic minorities have to weigh up the decision of whether to attend football matches or watch it at a screening where the majority of people will be from a Black or minority background.

“Niche groups like podcasts, or organisations which are predominantly Black or Asian, are doing more live screenings so that people from those communities can feel more welcome in a place and have a sense of belonging.”

For things to get better, Abiona said that the landscape of football in general needs to change but acknowledges that it may be difficult in areas where there is a lack of diversity.

She added: “When I went to an Arsenal game, I never felt out of place at all, given that there a lot of Black players at Arsenal and the club is situated in north London which has a strong Black community.

“But if I was to go to a Burnley match, for example, I may not feel as comfortable given that there is a lack of a Black and diverse presence within the fanbase.”

Justin Charles, who regularly attends Arsenal games, spoke of an awkward experience when he and a number of Black colleagues were sat in the hospitality box seats at Southampton’s St Mary’s Stadium.

He said: “I have not personally experienced abuse but when I attended that game I felt very out of place.

“There were around 20-25 of us, we were all Black and when we were walking out into our seats, we got very awkward looks from a number of the white fans in the regular seats. 

“They looked shocked at the number of Black people they had seen and it was almost as if they were surprised we were sitting in hospitality seats and while we were watching the game they kept on looking back at us.

“I did not feel comfortable at all.”

Charles echoed Abiona’s sentiment of feeling comfortable when attending Arsenal games because of the diverse fanbase and said that it is usually the London clubs or the big six clubs where you see this.

He added: “Going to Arsenal, I have never felt awkward or out of place. Even when I went to Selhurst Park to watch a Palace game, their stadium lies in the heart of a very diverse community in south London and I felt more included.

“However, within the smaller towns and cities in England where there are little to no Black people, I probably would not feel comfortable attending games there.

“That was evident when I went to Southampton.”

Another Arsenal regular, Louison Malanda, mentioned that racism is something that he thinks about regularly because of the recent notable cases within football over the last two years.

He said: “There have been notable incidents of racism towards big-name players such as Raheem Sterling and Saka, and it just emphasises the racial hostilities that still exist in this country.

“It is unfortunate, but that is the reality of English football in this day and age.”

When asked what can be done to stop the abuse, Malanda said that education and raising awareness is important but highlighted that it can only go so far.

He added: “Raising awareness and educating fans on what is right is important. However, we have seen some people voice their annoyance at players still taking the knee as they feel it is losing its purpose. 

“It almost seems as if taking the knee is white noise for what should happen before the game with no action stemming from it.

“Also, a lot of abuse we see nowadays comes from troll social media accounts where people know that racial abuse is wrong but say those nasty things because they think they can get attention without being traced.”

All three acknowledge that football is getting better for the traditional Black fan but realise that more needs to be done so that fans from all communities feel welcome in the sport.

Featured image credit: Ben Sutherland via Wikimedia Commons under CC BY 2.0 license

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