Jason Euell out to make fun of racism
Celebrity match has serious purpose and a vital message to convey, say ex-Blackpool striker and screen star Tamer Hassan. They talk to Jack Gaughan
Jason Euell leans forward in his chair, a fixed stare piercing the blank wall ahead as he recalls the night he was racially abused. Almost three years ago to the day, as he sat on the substitutes' bench at the Britannia Stadium waiting to come on in a League Cup third-round tie at Stoke City, one supporter felt it necessary to taunt the then Blackpool forward on the colour of his skin.
He had warmed up, minded his own business, and sat back on the bench. There was no provocative behaviour, no previous banter with the crowd and no reason for the torrent hurled in his direction. There very rarely is.
Professional footballers tend to shrug and agree that even today racism is something they have to deal with; that we may never be rid of the minority who plague society. The obscene prejudice might not be as overt as some of the things Euell heard when watching Millwall as a youngster, but it is still there, bubbling beneath the surface.
"I started having a go at this guy," Euell reflected. "My major issue was obviously with him, but also those that were around him. They didn't do enough to say to that person that what he was saying wasn't right. A lot of them sat there and watched me argue.
"It is still a sensitive subject to mention. When it is regarding colour, people tend to sit back at times instead of coming out to say how they feel. It shouldn't matter what colour, creed or sex you are."
Euell, an ambassador for Show Racism The Red Card (SRTRC), talks of the stigma attached to people in the vicinity of an incident. In bygone eras this verbal attack might have brought about incredulous laughter on the terraces. Now it should conjure spectators to their feet, but some choose to cower away, pretending nothing is happening. After the man had finally been ejected, one supporter approached Euell to explain that the perpetrator was not a "regular" watcher of Stoke; a notion of defence that is absurd, the player says. "It's not the issue whether he is a regular fan, it should not make a difference. It is a minority, but they are tarnishing the club you support."
He was speaking in the run-up to a celebrity match at Bromley Football Club a week tomorrow (1.0pm) to raise money for ongoing work at SRTRC, who tackle the problem head-on in schools with children as young as seven. That comes by way of interactive workshops in which students can take part in a range of visual, auditory and kinaesthetic activities designed to build empathy and to encourage critical thinking. They include question-and-answer sessions with coaches including ex-England striker Luther Blissett, former Newcastle defender Olivier Bernard and ex-Leicester striker Trevor Benjamin.
Also an ambassador and face of the event, actor Tamer Hassan is perhaps best known for his role in the 2002 film The Football Factory, a production highlighting mob culture with a recurring sub-plot about racism. Of Turkish descent, Hassan spoke openly about being a sufferer of racism as an amateur trying to make his way in the game. "I responded by attacking back," he admitted – it led to his expulsion from various institutions – before revealing that his son, Taser, endured similar problems last week. The incidents are 25 years apart but not very different. "It is the usual syndrome of jealousy, envy and hatred towards your fellow man when he is doing well. The envy isn't a bad thing – be envious but don't want him to lose what he has, be happy for him," Hassan said. "But small-minded idiots throw racist abuse their way because they have nothing to strive for."
There was no mention of role models – surprisingly, given the race rows played out in the press over the last nine months. Those incidents involving John Terry and Luis Suarez are not relevant to Hassan himself in what he wishes to achieve. To him the cause is purely about equipping the next generation with the tools necessary – "perception, awareness, a fresh outlook" – rather than attempting to prevent the inexorable. "It isn't about one footballer racially abusing another; when you're a pro and you've made it, making £120,000 a week, who cares? But when you're a kid that is put into a situation, it can completely destroy you. That kid has no chance, and it is a form of bullying," he said.
"It's never going to go away, but we want to finance facilities to help kids deal with it, and not worry. It is only words. A racist will not scream and shout. They are cowards who will discreetly say something in your ear while going past. If they do that, name and shame them. Stopping a game, telling the referee confidently that someone called you X, Y and Z, means they won't do it again."
They make no bones about next weekend's fixture, played against a team captained by another actor, Shane Ritchie, being a "fun day out". There will be famous footballers present: Euell and Blissett will be joined by Frank Sinclair, Darren Byfield, Efe Sodje and Curtis Fleming, with Leroy Rosenior and Eddie Newton brought in as coaches. Former 400m runner Iwan Thomas is set to play alongside Team GB team-mate Ashley McKenzie, the judoka.
Other players recruited come from different areas of the celebsphere – or otherwise, depending on your cultural preferences – and the party line is that it does not matter who you are, or who you like, because ultimately the focus is on the end goal, added money ploughed into schools. The target is £5,000, which is eminently achievable even before the remaining 600 tickets are sold.
More events are in the offing and there is plenty of talk surrounding an expansion of the project to a larger scale in the near future. Working alongside SRTRC, they know what they want. Hassan has his eye on playing Robbie Williams's globally renowned charity side.
Euell is now coaching young professionals at Charlton Athletic, relishing the opportunity to impact on their development in both a footballing and social sense. He is more forthright than Hassan in his views on the current state of play within the game. "We shouldn't just stop because someone has been found guilty. We don't want anybody going to an FA hearing or to a higher court," he said. "It shouldn't get to a stage where people are dragged there for making comments. That is on the pitch, in the terraces and hopefully on the street."
According to Euell there is a continuing improvement on what is ignorant at best, repulsively backward otherwise, but according to Metropolitan Police statistics there were 8,697 reported incidents of racist and religious hate crimes in London between August 2011 and this July. That is an increase of 7.4 per cent on the previous year and equates to nearly 24 incidents per day in the capital alone – and that is only those that are actually reported.
Those findings make fundraisers such as this absolutely pivotal to the way in which tomorrow's adults, prospective professional sportsmen included, behave towards a multicultural Britain that has been quite rightly lauded over the summer.
"The last few weeks [during the Olympics and Paralympics] have given the country a different sense of how we look towards each other. We are all the same and should be given that opportunity," Euell said. "Hopefully everyone still has the smiles on their faces and proudness to want to go and surpass that in day-to-day life. Sometimes the minority get a louder voice but it is now the time for the majority to squash that.
"A pound can go a long way, and the more pounds gained the further we can go with it. It doesn't matter if it is £100 or £200,000, that money will get used and spread across the board and get around to as many communities as possible."
Among the people at the heart of staging this event, "perception" is the buzzword. Events such as this, which help laudable schemes that hit the centre of an issue, are a sure-fire way to shape tomorrow's generation. Riding on the crest of a multiracial Stratford wave, building awareness may now be a calmer business.
Tamer Hassan XI v Shane Ritchie XI is an event organised by Butterfly PR in aid of Show Racism The Red Card. To buy tickets for the 1.0pm kick-off on 23 September, visit http://buytickets.at/butterflyprltd/5518. They are priced at £10, and £5 for under-12s or concessions. Tickets bought on the day will cost £15.
What do you get for your money?
£500 Full day of workshops in schools for three classes of young people
£1,000-£1,500 An education event based at a football club for 150 children
£2,500 A full day's conference for up to 75 delegates
£5,000 Show Racism The Red Card can sponsor the UK's largest anti-racism national football competition
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