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Brendon Batson wants change to back up players taking a knee

Brendon Batson Show Racism the Red Card Hall of Fame Awards
(Image credit: Myung Jung Kim)

Brendon Batson believes football can set an example for society but cannot be the “silver bullet” in the fight against racism.

The former West Brom defender also wants to see change to back up players taking a knee.

The 67-year-old was saddened after Millwall fans booed their players for taking a knee ahead of Saturday’s 1-0 defeat to Derby.

The gesture, in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, was adopted last season and Batson feels it needs to help instigate change.

“Football can’t be the silver bullet for all issues within our society but within the industry steps have to be taken to show better representation within our game,” Batson, who is a patron of Show Racism the Red Card which celebrates its 25th anniversary on Wednesday, told the PA news agency.

“I feel there comes a time where the symbolism of it has to be backed up by action.

“That’s what everyone is waiting for now, to see some tangible difference. One of the straplines we hear all the the time is football’s for all, equal opportunities but we know on the face of it there doesn’t appear to be that.

“The anti-racism campaigns have given people a voice to say we don’t have to put up with the abuse. With the Millwall incident, what gets me is people try to tie it into the pollical element of the Black Lives Matter movement. It’s a symbolic gesture to say ‘everyone is equal’.”

Moves have been made to tackle racial inequality and in October the Football Association launched the Football Leadership Diversity Code, with clubs required to meet a diversity target of 15 per cent in new executive jobs and 25 per cent in coaching roles.

Along with Garth Crooks and Paul Elliott, Batson also helped pioneer the Elite Coach Placement Programme in 2018, a joint scheme between the PFA and FA to give BAME coaches placements in the England squads.

Batson, who was born in Grenada, was Arsenal’s first black player after joining as an apprentice in 1969 before moving to Cambridge and then West Brom in 1978.

He joined Laurie Cunningham and Cyrille Regis at The Hawthorns to become trailblazers for black players but experienced racism, including on his Albion debut at Birmingham.

“You had to walk down some steps from the dressing room and as I came down I slipped and when I looked round there was a banana on the pitch, I’d slipped on that,” said Batson, who made 220 appearances for the Baggies.

“Coming from Cambridge, the volume was something you had to put up with. I thought joining Laurie and Cyrille would make things better, safety in numbers.

“They all sort of became part of the same issue, chanting, throwing bananas at you, making money chants. Great credit for the black players of my era, it was always, ‘see you next week, next month, next year’.

“Getting racist abuse when you were playing was nothing new as we got it as schoolboys on park pitches.

“You had to show a lot of resilience and character. We were determined we weren’t going to be driven away from our profession.

“We had the support of our team mates and clubs, even though there was a whispering campaign about black players, that they were lazy, had no bottle and don’t like the cold. Stereotypical views which had no basis.”