Paul Parker: Racism in football is still a "massive issue"

With the first international break of the new season upon us, former Manchester United and England defender Paul Parker tackles the issue of racism in football in his latest exclusive column for FourFourTwo…

Racism is still a massive issue in football. It hasn’t disappeared. I think everyone falls into the trap that because we don’t hear any racial chants at Premier League games – and people often tend to think the world revolves around the Premier League – they forget there are other leagues being contested and the fact that there is still racism in those.

Outside of the Premier League, even down to non-league football, right down to Sunday morning park football, there is racism.

I think it’s a cultural thing. It’s something that will take decades to overcome as cultures become more and more multi-racial. Obviously how people are bringing their children up is also very important in tackling this issue.

I had to confront racism a number of times in my life. I’m basically first generation black West Indian and you have to deal with it. All the people from my era, John Barnes, Des Walker, we all had to just get on with it.

I’ve got three children and they’ve been very fortunate in the way they’ve been brought up and where they’ve lived. I grew up around Dagenham and Essex. You move out of London to the suburbs and there weren’t many blacks around at all at that time. They weren’t used to having black people or Asian people around so it was often a naïve and ignorant environment.

I was abused by England fans who were Nazis. I just couldn’t believe it.

When I was a bit older, I was in an area where a lot of people knew me and that made a difference. That got me through a few things. I would be in bars sometimes and an Indian taxi driver would walk in and get abused. But it was conveyed to me that I was OK. They’d say, “It’s OK Paul, you’re one of us.” It was quite condescending.

But it was one of those things back in the ‘80s when you basically just had to deal with. There was nowhere to go. If you shouted and screamed about it, you were deemed mentally weak. Newspapers didn’t want to write about it. So I just had to get on with it and deal with it in my own way.

That’s what makes me so mentally strong. I was playing in an England B game back in 1989. Myself and Paul Gascoigne were just coming in to the England squad in ‘88 and weren’t getting enough football. So there was an England B game in Iceland and we were asked to play in that.

I was abused by England fans who were Nazis. I just couldn’t believe it.

It was about minus-six degrees and they’ve come all the way out there just to abuse the black players in an England B team. It just summed them up really.

Why go all that way just to do something like that? But it really didn’t bother me. It actually got me going. I’d been at Leeds United’s home ground at Elland Road as a 17-year-old and had Leeds fans singing a song about how ‘there ain’t no blacks in the Union Jack’.

I was chased around school because I was the only black kid in the school at the time. I’d been through all that and I basically just had to get on with it, so that’s what I did. In today’s world, the idea now is to stop playing and walk off.

I don’t agree with that. For me that’s letting people win. It doesn’t make any sense to me to do that.

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It’s better to show people that you’re not hurt. If you take a bullet, you don’t just lie down and die, you fight. That’s what you do. You stay alive.

People seem to think you can form a group these days and that will help make it disappear. It doesn’t. These things take time. There has to be some kind of awareness.

Those people going around with those badges on their lapels and banners in the back of their cars and the players walking out wearing t-shirts, it’s great they’re getting behind efforts to clean up racism, but do they think it’s going to suddenly make someone say ‘I don’t want to be a racist anymore’?

It doesn’t work like that. At the end of the day, you’re never going to change someone who is aged 35 or 40. They are more likely to be sheep or people that don’t have their own mind or are controlled by other people.

That’s the other sign of the coin, but it’s about kids more than anything else and educating people. Some of the older people don’t want to be educated or couldn’t be educated. They’re not going to listen.

Racial chanting still goes on at football matches. It’s just silenced very quickly in the Premier League because the Premier League games have a lot of stewards which the clubs can afford to employ.

These people are seen and then thrown out straight away. But that doesn’t materialise in lower division football because clubs can’t afford the stewards.

it isn’t just about black or white. I live in Singapore and there are racial problems here.

With smaller crowds some of the stewards might be local and the people doing the racial chanting might be local as well.

Racism is clearly still a big issue all around the world and it isn’t just about black or white. I live in Singapore and there are racial problems here between the Singapore Malays, the Singapore Chinese and the Singapore Indians.

It happens everywhere and it isn’t just about the colour of your skin. People have to forget about colour. There are chances of it ultimately disappearing in England because we’re totally 100 per cent aware of it and there are people out there trying to deal with the situation.

But I’m not sure in Europe or the rest of the world they’re geared for it and in my opinion, I’m not sure they’re all that bothered about it either. People tend to think it’s just one those things that will disappear after you take a few tablets, like the common cold.

Society has certainly come a long way. Is it ever going to be gone? No it’s not. Not in my lifetime. It’s going to go on and on because people are always going to find something to pick on or something to shout if they see that as a weakness.

The colour of the skin, you could have a big nose, it could be anything.

People have to understand it isn’t going to disappear. There are massive issues with racism in this region. Like it does in the UK, it affects work. You go to India and there is the class system in India. You come here and it’s about the Chinese, Indians and Malays.

For me, it’s all about trying to get things across to the younger generation. It’s for them to take it forward and when they become parents, for them to educate their children. That’s what it’s about and that’s where we can hopefully start to see progress.

Paul Parker is Technical Director for JSSL Arsenal, Singapore’s No.1 Youth Soccer Club – www.jssl-singapore.com