Internet Nazis salute all-white Blackburn

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The Independent Online
The persistent absence of any black player in a Premier League football club's first team has led to a supporters' site on the Internet being inundated with congratulatory messages from neo-Nazis across Europe.

Blackburn Rovers are the only Premier League team not to have fielded a black player this season. Since 1991, when the club's millionaire owner, Jack Walker, took charge, no black player has turned out for Blackburn.

While other teams have brought black players to the fore and seen them become some of the biggest stars in the game, Blackburn last fielded a black player in 1990. His name was Richard Brown. A defender, he played in 26 games in the old Second Division.

The absence of a black first team player was noted in the third FA Premier League Fan Survey, published last month. The current national figure, from the last census in 1991, shows that non-white ethnic minorities account for just under 5 per cent of Britain's population. But the report discloses that only 0.2 per cent of Blackburn's season ticket holders are black.

"Blackburn Rovers seem to attract little local ethnic minority support," said the report, "despite recent club successes and a substantial [mainly Asian] minority community in the town."

The report then went on to point out that "it is also perhaps significant that Manchester City [another club with a low proportion of black ticket- holders] and Blackburn were two clubs in the Premier League to have few, or no, black players in their first team squads in 1995-96."

The same survey also found that Blackburn fans have the lowest awareness of the "Let's Kick Racism Out of Football" campaign. Ironically, this season's campaign was launched at Ewood Park, Blackburn's ground, last August. Around 100 referees, supporters' representatives, senior police officers, league officials and players gathered at the stadium and signed a Declaration Against Racism in Football.

Since the start of the season, however, Blackburn Rovers have unwittingly found their club attracting a different kind of crowd. The supporters' Internet site has become a favourite for racist fans. The organiser of the site, a computer expert called Lee - he will not give his full name for fear of attack - daily clears racist messages of support. One "fan" signed himself "Adolf Hitler". Lee said the site had had messages from neo-Nazi groups and German white supremacists.

He swept the site, he said, because "we do have standards of our own to maintain. Perhaps when Rovers field a black player these people will go away".

A Blackburn official said:"We have a lot of black boys at youth level." The absence of a black player was not sinister, "it is just the way things sometimes are."

Speaking from his Channel Islands home, Mr Walker denied black players were being excluded. "If we want to play black people we play black people," he said. "There is no colour bar."