Henry starts campaign to end curse of racism

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The Independent Football

Thierry Henry yesterday launched his own anti-racism campaign directly in response to the remarks made about him by the Spain coach Luis Aragones.

Thierry Henry yesterday launched his own anti-racism campaign directly in response to the remarks made about him by the Spain coach Luis Aragones.

The Arsenal striker has enlisted sponsor Nike and footballers world-wide for the "Stand Up Speak Up" initiative. The symbol will be two interlocked wristbands, one black, one white and 2.5 million of them have been produced.

Television adverts, in five languages, have been made with footballers such as Ronaldinho, Roberto Carlos and Ruud van Nistelrooy. And the Netherlands and Portugal will wear one-off black-and-white kits in their forthcoming friendly matches against England and Portugal respectively, as will Russia in their next friendly.

Yesterday Henry explained why he had started the campaign after being called "a black shit" by Aragones last October. "Everywhere people were asking me what I was going to do about what he said," Henry said. "I received so many phone calls. Claude Makelele and Phillippe Mexès were both open to the initiative. I saw Ronaldinho not so long ago and he was shocked by the images of the Spain versus England game as well." Rio Ferdinand - who played at the Bernabeu when England's black players suffered terrible racist abuse - also attended the launch.

The bands will be first worn by both players and their team-mates at the Premiership match between Arsenal and Manchester United next Tuesday.

Henry maintained he would be prepared to meet Aragones if he wanted to apologise but added: "I like the saying 'you can forgive but you cannot forget'."

Aragones had uttered his racist comments to Henry's Arsenal team-mate Jose Antonio Reyes. "I don't know how that is supposed to motivate a player," Henry said. "Sometimes you don't understand how hard it is for people to stay calm," he added when asked about the racism he has faced playing for Arsenal - most noticeably in the Champions' League against Valencia, PSV Eindhoven and Panathinaikos. "People must realise that the man is suffering. We are all human beings. But you cannot do anything on the pitch. If you shout something back you get a red card or are banned."

Both players said they had not experienced racism in matches in England. However, Ferdinand expressed his annoyance at what he felt was a lack of action from the authorities. "It shouldn't be down to the players," he said.

Furthermore, the campaign was launched on the day the Football Association was forced to scrap thousands of copies of a DVD claiming to feature the best 17 post-war England internationals - with no black player included. "People have their own opinions of who is the best," Ferdinand said. "But for there not to be a black player surprises me. On my list there would be lots." Chief among them would be John Barnes and Ian Wright.

A longer list was submitted by England fans and originally included black players but they were edited out for the final 30-minute cut. Yesterday the FA said: "We regret and apologise for any offence that may have been caused due to a lack of black representation on this DVD." A new one will now be produced.

Barnes also had an influence on Henry who related the story about when he was a schoolboy, disinterested in his lessons. "My English teacher knew I was into football and gave me an article to translate. It was about John Barnes and I'll never forget the picture of him kicking the banana. The guy stayed on the pitch with his head up."

Henry said he was also "amazed" by the restraint shown by the England players in Madrid and added that he had congratulated Ashley Cole when he returned to Arsenal.