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A sporting chance
Tackling racism in football

By Lucie McLean
BBC News Online

Earl Barrett: Blocked out racism


Earl Barrett says he was the kind of footballer who tried to block out the crowd when he was playing.

But during his successful career with clubs including Oldham Athletic and Aston Villa and Manchester City, the former England defender wasn't always able to shut out racist taunts coming from the stands.


In the old days it was a hush-hush subject. Players like Viv Anderson, Laurie Cunningham and Cyrille Regis just had to put their chest out, walk head held high - and that was all they could do.

Earl Barrett
"I started playing football in the 1980s," he says.

"I was playing in reserves somewhere and when there are only a few hundred people in the stands, you can hear what they say.

"There were other black players on the field too but I remember getting the ball and hearing monkey chants."

Click here to watch an interview with Earl Barrett

Today, he is fondly remembered by Oldham Athletic fans and honoured as "club legend" on the official website.

Background & analysis


Earl Barrett had a distinguished career, ended through injury.
But are there factors preventing other ethnic minorites enjoying sport?


Read our analysis here
But years ago, Earl remembers that racist calling was such a problem at some grounds that one club sent undercover investigators on to the terraces to root out those responsible.

Earl says he was not affected by the abuse he and other black players received. He became hardened to it after his first serious experience of racism.

One night, when he was in his late teens, he visited a local curry house near his home in Rochdale.

As he walked through the door, a white man began shouting racist abuse and then threw ashtrays and water jugs at him.

"I went home and cried," he says. "I just couldn't believe it. It's almost as if you're ashamed of yourself. It's stayed with me up to now - I've only told a few people about it."

Earl believes today's Premiership footballers suffer a lot less racism than their predecessors.

"In the old days it was a hush-hush subject. Players like Viv Anderson [the first black footballer to play for England], Laurie Cunningham and Cyrille Regis just had to put their chest out, walk head held high and that was all they could do.

"They wanted to say they were being abused but it wasn't the done thing to complain. Now you can complain to the authorities."

While the situation may have improved for top players, there is still evidence of racism at lower levels of the game.

Two years ago, football's anti-racism campaign, Kick It Out, commissioned a survey of players and officials in amateur football.

All of the black players they interviewed said they had experienced racist abuse or discrimination.

The players said this had come from club officials, coaches and managers as well as from other players and supporters.

Equality on the pitch

In terms of race equality on the pitch, Britain's black population is still much better represented than the Asian community.

Approximately 15% percent of professional footballers in Britain are black but there are only a handful of professional Asian players.



Viv Anderson: England's first black international
As yet, none have made it to Premier League status. One young player, Newcastle United's 18-year-old Michael Chopra, now on a full-squad contract but not yet in the first team, is tipped to become Britain's first Asian football star.

Several clubs around the UK are trying to address the imbalance and increase the profile of football in Asian communities.

One of those clubs is West Ham United which started a scheme three years ago to get local Asian children playing the game.

The initiative, run by Mick King, provides more than 40 sessions a week at schools and after-school clubs in the East End of London.

Click here to watch an interview with Mick King

Mick says that there is no reason to think that Asian children are no less keen to play as white and black kids.

"The interest, enthusiasm and motivation is there. What was absent was the willingness on the part of professional football clubs to target young Asian players and meet them on their own terms within their own communities."

Mick's suspicions of preconceptions are backed up by statistics. Opinions may be changing now, but just six years ago it was a different matter. "Asians Can't Play Football", a sarcastically-titled study into racism in the sport, surveyed youth team coaches at professional clubs. Just over half of those questioned thought that Asian footballers were "physically inferior" to players from other groups.

While several of the West Ham scheme's young participants have been accepted by West Ham's prestigious youth academy, it's not all about finding the next generation of stars.

The sessions are about having fun and helping children from different communities integrate. Within the Asian target area, the club seeks to bring together children from a range of ethnic backgrounds.

Mick believes the scheme is inspiring a new generation of footballers in the East End and he hopes other clubs will follow West Ham's example.

"It would be nice to see other clubs in areas where there are concentrated communities of Asian people, for example Preston and Bradford, doing similar things on a similar scale.

"You should do it on the same scale as if you were trying to attract white kids," he added.

"The parity has to be there for white kids, black kids and Asian kids. Then I think you'll start to see equal breakthroughs."

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