'Every time I got the ball there were monkey chants. It's wrong'

Gillingham goalkeeper Jason Brown has been racially abused for club and country. He tells Glenn Moore how it feels
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The Independent Football

Having conceded a late equaliser, Jason Brown, the Gillingham goalkeeper, was already despondent as he went to collect his towel and water bottle from the back of the net at the final whistle. What he heard next changed his mood to one of fury.

"There was a fan about five feet away," said Brown. "He went 'you effin black c***'. I was stunned." This was at Chesterfield on 4 February [2006]. Five days earlier, at Swansea, the Wales under-21 keeper heard monkey chants directed at him. The two incidents were a chilling reminder to Brown, who grew up in the shadow of racism and its evil consequences, that such attitudes still pervade at British grounds even if they are no longer expressed as widely or publicly as 20 years ago.

Brown, a 23-year-old veteran of more than 100 League matches, added: "Being a goalkeeper in the lower levels, where there is less crowd noise, you hear a lot of things. You get a lot of stick and while nothing is good you don't mind certain things - but when it becomes racist that is when it becomes unforgivable. You are there to entertain people, not to be abused.

"My first reaction at Chesterfield was to go and confront him and I wasn't going to be messing around when I got hold of him. I was so angry. But instead I said to the steward 'that man's just racially abused me' and he said 'get away'. I said 'he's just racially abused me, aren't you going to do anything'? He just said 'go to the dressing room'. He could see how upset I was. The guy was still standing there. Eventually I walked away. The referee asked me what had happened, then said he'd report it. I said 'That's not good enough. The man was still there. Something could have been done'. No one could be identified at Swansea, it was too crowded, but this was different.

"Roy McFarland, the Chesterfield manager, later came in to the changing room and apologised. And I've had letters and e-mails from Chesterfield supporters apologising. That does not smooth it over but it's nice, he and they didn't have to do it. When I was playing in Serbia with Wales Under-21s there were 9,000 people abusing me. I knew it was aimed at me because I was the only black player on the pitch and every time I got the ball there were monkey chants and things like that. No one from Serbia came in and said sorry."

Brown is unhappy that, two months after the Chesterfield incident, he has yet to hear back from the Football Association. "They have stuck it in a big file and got on with worrying about what Sven Goran Eriksson is having for dinner," he said. "But if I'd hit the guy I'd have been made an example of. I'd have got a long ban. They were quick to fine Gary Neville for kissing his badge but this is too much work for them."

"We haven't forgotten," said Andrin Cooper, of the FA. "It is an ongoing investigation. Chris Whalley, the head of stadium safety and security, is looking into it but we need to get all the information. When allegations are made of racist or violent behaviour by spectators the key thing is to identify and ban the individuals. That's what happened when Dwight Yorke was abused at Blackburn. Whenever there are accusations of racist behaviour we take it seriously."

Brown encountered overt and covert racism as a schoolboy in south London. The son of a black father and white mother, he recalled, as we spoke at Gillingham's Priestfield Stadium, "sometimes when I was young and I got on a bus or a train with my friends I would see old people grab their bags and hold them close. And I would think 'why, what have I done?' Just because I'm black doesn't mean I'm going to rob you.

"Then when I was older I was on Charlton's books. Their training ground is at Eltham, where Stephen Lawrence was murdered. I was certainly aware of having to be a bit more careful if I was coming home by myself. My mum used to be a bit worried because obviously you don't have to do something for people to start on you.

"Racists are narrow-minded, irrational people. When he said that at Chesterfield I'm thinking 'your goalscorer is black, your centre-half, your midfielder, your right-winger'.

"This is my colour but I'm no different from you. We speak the same, we bleed the same colour. The days when people thought black people were different are long gone, or should be. Muslims are getting similar problems now because of 9/11. It's wrong.

"People say 'Don't listen to them, they're just narrow-minded', but it's different if it's happening to you."

Do players think there is still a problem?

Have you ever experienced racism within the game in England?

Yes/No/No reply

Premier League 33%/66%/1%

Championship 42%/58%/0

League One 33%/67%/0

League Two 36%/62%/2%

All players 36%/63%/1%

Do you believe that black players and coaches are under-represented among coaches and players?

Yes/No/Don't know

Premier League 28%/71%/1%

Championship 27%/73%/0

League One 24%/75%/1%

League Two 24%/73%/3%

All players 25.5%/73%/1.5%