Davide Santon has seen players reduced to tears by racism. No wonder, writes Stuart Rayner, he is so keen to nip it in the bud
OVER the course of the last 12 months or so, English football has had what Alan Pardew calls “a kick up the bottom.”
At the start of last season, you could have been forgiven for thinking racism was a dark chapter in its history, but no more.
Thanks to the efforts of Show Racism the Red Card – an organisation started on Tyneside 16 years ago at the initiative of former Newcastle United goalkeeper Shaka Hislop – the monkey chants, banana-throwing and other such Neanderthal acts which once embarrassed it seemed to have been stamped out.
They were things that happened in other countries, in domestic football and occasionally when English teams played abroad, but for us it was a pre-Premier League – and therefore in some people’s eyes pre-historical – phenomenon.
Maybe, just maybe, we had become complacent.
“There’s possibly an argument for that,” Pardew conceded after launching an educational DVD for the organisation with Newcastle players Davide Santon and Jonás Gutiérrez.
Then came the “kick up the bottom”. John Terry, Luis Suárez and even Gosforth referee Mark Clattenburg became embroiled in high-profile racism scandals.
Terry was found guilty by football but not the courts, Suárez received a lengthy ban and sooner rather than later Clattenburg will either be vindicated, or find his career as an official effectively over.
The on-field indiscretions seemed to open the floodgates off it, with morons suddenly feeling able to express their antiquated views on the terraces and in cyberspace. Shola and Sammy Ameobi, Danny Simpson and Papiss Cissé have had to endure keyboard hatred.
Newcastle have been commendably quick to get the police involved.
That it should be a problem in Newcastle, where such a mix of nationalities have blended into one of the city’s best ever teams is particularly depressing, and a reminder of the danger of complacency.
Coming from Italy, where he has seen footballers reduced to tears by racism, Santon thinks our game can be proud of the way it welcomes foreigners, but knows only vigilance from role models such as him will keep it that way.
It is why he was so keen to speak to the pupils of Corbridge Middle School, Percy Main Primary School and Chillingham Road Primary School invited to St James’ Park yesterday.
“At Newcastle we have a lot of black players,” he points out.
“I am friends with everybody, the skin colour doesn’t make a difference. If you know a person you can say if they are a good or a bad person, but only after you speak to them.
“You can’t say because someone is black they will be a certain type of person.
“I have a lot of friends in Italy and here as well, and for me it’s not important what colour their skin is. All that matters is the person inside.”
Pardew warned: “With Twitter and Facebook it’s becoming more and more of an issue. Even MPs are getting picked up. It’s all about education.”
Having played for Inter Milan, Santon knows full well what can happen when the issue is ignored. In Serie A far-right supporters have an uncomfortable sway over certain clubs.
“Italy can learn from the atmosphere in the English stadiums,” he argues. “In England they have more respect.
“Maybe the fans are a bit more racist in Italy. If they don’t like a player they will boo him. It’s not nice for the player.
“Some players, when the fans do that, walk off the pitch. Now if it happens the referee can stop the game. It means the fans are a little bit more careful.
“Before some black players would get a lot of booing every game and I saw some players cry on the pitch because of it.
“Stopping the game is the best way to deal with it. If you don’t, the fans don’t care and they’ll just keep doing it. If the fans want to see the game, they have to show respect for the players.”
Showing respect is more than a matter of courtesy.
Imagine Premier League history if no black player – never mind no foreign player – had wanted to play here because of the vile abuse they would be subjected to on a weekly basis? Where would Newcastle be without not just Tioté, Cissé and Demba Ba, or even the Ameobis, Gaël Bigiramana or Vurnon Anita to cover for them?
No wonder Pardew goes to such great lengths to make his foreign players feel at home.
“We haven’t had an Italy day yet but it helps the morale of the dressing room,” Santon says of their famous canteen “theme days”.
“Food for me in England is very different because I prefer a lot of pasta before the game, but I’m getting used to it.
“The first two weeks I found the driving in England really difficult because in Italy we drive on the right. But now I feel I’m at home.
“I’m really happy here in England. I have a girlfriend here and I’m relaxed and able to concentrate on my football. I feel at home and I’m happy here.”
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