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Racism, England and Newcastle United

6 months ago

In the last few months, racism has reared its ugly head again.

Although these days it is often done in a clandestine way, fake twitter and facebook accounts for example, it is still there.

I think those of a certain age can see how we have evolved through the years and that is only a good thing, but it was not always that way, especially up here in and around St James Park.

Back in the mid 1970s I can remember West Brom running out at SJP and the hush and whispers that greeted them was because for many, including me, it was the first time we had seen a team featuring more than one black player. Of course, West Ham had Bermudan Clyde Best (who is oddly enough a friend of my Bermudan based side of the family and an absolute gentleman) but to see more than one was an eye opener.

West Brom then proceeded to tear Newcastle apart and a comfortable 3-0 win was had, where the late Laurie Cunningham was outstanding.

At school in those days there was only the odd black kid and more often than not he was nicknamed Chalkie or Sam, yes for you younger folk, this was how it was. Chinese people were chinks and their food still is – is that not a racist term?

On TV, racial disharmony was being fuelled by Alf Garnett, as well as the popular Love thy Neighbour sitcom.

Back on the footie field and Newcastle were relegated in 1978 and some of the darkest moments were to follow, first game of the next season we were away at Millwall and me and a mate had saved what money we could to get on the Armstrong Galley to be at this game, it’s odd that as you get older you can’t remember what you did yesterday but things from 1978 I can remember with definitive detail.

I was 14 and vaguely aware of the reputation Millwall had after the bus spat us out quite near to the Old Den, the hefty police presence confirmed this as the locals were not interested in pubs but more at getting at the seven or eight coach loads of Newcastle fans who had made the trip south…the escort was short, swift and not without incident as stones and bottles rained down at one point.

Once inside the ground the mood relaxed and it seemed the away following was quite large (not as large as other times we visited the same ground) but sizeable enough, an early David Barton goal gave us a 1-0 HT lead only for a second half collapse see us lose the game 2-1.

Outside after however was mayhem…it was as it was at the time, but what has this got to do with racism? Well, when you are about to get back onto the Armstrong Galley and a huge black bloke makes it clear he would happily slit a 14 year old kid’s throat it certainly influences your opinion.

Suffice to say. we got away without further incident but it was a chilly ride home despite it being August.

Back to SJP and the racism was in my memory growing, as within a year or two the National Front had set up a stall on match day outside the Gallowgate End to sell their wares, while inside the ground Bing’s White Christmas was being sang while fans stood doing a Nazi salute, this is how it was and anybody who says different is falsifying the past.

All of this does influence kids of a certain age, in such the same way that music did, most people run with the crowd of the side they choose to be on, I was into football and Punk rock.

I would say racism stayed at SJP for quite a long time in the 80s, West Ham’s Bobby Barnes had bananas thrown at him and monkey noises were commonly heard, as they were at most football grounds at that time.

The signings of Tony Cunningham and Howard Gayle did little to stem this, though the chant of “he’s Black, he’s Broon, he’s playing for Toon” was heard often from the Gallowgate End. I think we all at some point sang this song and possibly smiled.

Though the 80s, while the racist element was fading away it was not until we signed Andy Cole that it was virtually completely blown out of the water, he was a black guy with b.llocks like Supermac and a a scoring record that would become mightily impressive.

Since those days, society has generally evolved to a much better place and people like me were educated along the way, and thankfully racism has to a degree largely disappeared. However, as mentioned earlier, social media gives those that want to, an opportunity to occasionally bring it back to the headlines, hopefully these people will be found and suitable dealt with by the authorities.

What I struggle with these days however is the balance between criticism and racism, it’s a fact that all three penalty takers took poor penalties the other night, they were man enough to step up but ultimately failed, but saying they were poorly taken penalties is not racist it is honest criticism and this is where people get confused.

For me, most fingers should be pointed at Gareth Southgate, for 87 minutes he employed Bruce type tactics and selected the wrong men to take the kicks. If Ian Wright comes out and says that, does it make him a racist? Not at all, it’s honest criticism.

I hope people get what I am trying to say because these days, freedom of speech can be taken the wrong way and for those of us of a certain age who witnessed the appalling happenings of the 70s and 80s, it is hard to strike the right balance.


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