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Mark Walters: My team-mates were quiet on racist abuse – that’s unacceptable now

Mark Walters
(Image credit: PA)

Mark Walters suffered some of the most blatant racist abuse a footballer has experienced in Britain and none of his team-mates mentioned it.

So the former England winger is delighted to see the game showing solidarity with anti-racist movements.

Walters overcame racism during his younger days before it intensified when he moved from Aston Villa to Rangers in 1987. He was subjected to monkey chants and fruit-throwing on his debut at Celtic Park, and was hit with a banana at Tynecastle weeks later.

Scottish football has moved on considerably and Premiership players will continue to take a knee before games in defiance of discrimination.

Rangers manager Steven Gerrard takes a knee ahead of the match against St MIrren

Rangers manager Steven Gerrard takes a knee ahead of the match against St MIrren (Craig Foy/PA).

Walters said: “What I like is the football world has got together and done something. In my time, my colleagues were, I wouldn’t say embarrassed, but they didn’t say anything about what was going on.

“Now the football world is showing togetherness and that things happening around the world, the George Floyd incident, are totally unacceptable. Every decent human being around the world has said that.

“Maybe it should be changed to Black Lives Matter As Well, because obviously all lives matter, but when things happen that are so out of order and no-one says anything, that’s just as bad as being part of it.

“The fact that they are all coming together and doing something about it is fantastic and will help young players coming through, not only in football but ordinary people. Because it’s all right for Mark Walters or so-called well-known people, but it’s the ordinary person walking around who maybe gets abused in work, and it helps people like them.

“It’s unacceptable to just say nothing anymore. When your friend is going through problems and you’re not saying anything to help them, what kind of a friend are you? If someone is in distress, surely you should help them?

“Fortunately I was of the mentality that I didn’t care what was said to me or about me, I was going to do my best as a footballer. I had friends who just couldn’t do that and unfortunately went by the wayside.”

Walters, who also played for the likes of Liverpool and Swindon, added:  “A lot of the players I played with didn’t know what to say to me. But now with the education and all the stats going around, people know how it affects people’s mental health.

“It’s fantastic that the football world has got together and decided they need to be an example to other industries.

“The players didn’t know how to react when you had 50,000 people calling you all the names under the sun. Now it has happened for so long that people know what it does and what it doesn’t do.”

Mark Walters in action for Rangers against Celtic

Mark Walters in action for Rangers against Celtic (PA).

Walters believes there is much more football can do – for example to ensure more black coaches and managers get job opportunities.

“Statistics show there’s not a lot of black managers in football, and other industries,” the 56-year-old said. “It needs something to be done, maybe the model in America, the Rooney Law, where if a job is offered, one or two of the people interviewed need to be someone of colour. That might help.

“They can’t say they don’t want to do it, because I have tried myself.

“I coached for 10 years and coached for Aston Villa for six or seven of those years in the academy. When a full-time job came up, I wasn’t even considered for the job and I was the only one who had played league football, never mind represented Aston Villa 200 times and scored a few goals for them.

“When I saw that, I was very disillusioned. Luckily I had options and carried on working for the FA and did other things. But some people have no choice.”

:: Mark Walters was speaking at the launch of Premier Sports’ live and exclusive coverage of the Betfred Cup and Celtic’s first three European qualifiers.”