The day our fans shamed me

Ged Grebby was once ashamed to be a Newcastle United fan, but in a little over a decade later he has helped transform the way football fans think about race.

Ged Grebby was once ashamed to be a Newcastle United fan, but in a little over a decade later he has helped transform the way football fans think about race.


As the monkey chants rang out around St James's Park and those around him cackled with laughter at another racist joke Ged Grebby reluctantly realised he was ashamed to be called a Newcastle United supporter.

For a lifelong United fan who had grown up in Wallsend and held a season ticket since 1971, this was a heart-wrenching moment as the racism and bigotry which soured everyday life in the region poisoned the game and the club he loved.

Grebby, like any Geordie conscious of regional rivalries, had fully expected the arrival of bitter neighbours Sunderland to generate a hostile atmosphere, but he had not expected it to lead to this.

Sunderland arrived at the home of their rivals on New Year's Day 1985 with two black players in the team, Gary Bennett and Howard Gayle, the latter of whom had played for the Magpies when on loan from Liverpool two years earlier.

Both Gayle and Bennett were sent off as Newcastle won 3-1 but even Peter Beardsley's winning hat-trick - the first by a United player against their Wearside rivals since 1956 - failed to leave a positive impression of the proceedings on Grebby.

"I can remember it vividly, it was horrible, it was painful to be there," said Grebby, who has been the driving force behind the highly-successful Show Racism The Red Card campaign which celebrates it's 10th anniversary this weekend.

"Sunderland had Howard Gayle and Gary Bennett in their team and the Newcastle fans decided to abuse them whenever they touched the ball. There were 30,000 people in the ground, joining in the monkey chants, shouting racist abuse or laughing about it, I was so ashamed.

"I loved the club, but I couldn't stand the behaviour of some of the supporters. It wasn't Newcastle United's problem as such, it was society's problem.

"That was one of the things that inspired me to start Show Racism The Red Card, that memory. I was sick of it, it had been going on all through the 70 and 80s and it was worst up here.

"I was involved in the Labour party and my principles made me anti-racism. As a socialist, anything that divides you weakens you. It was the old trade union principle, so racism was always abhorrent to me." Grebby had already been involved in the youth against racism campaign in Newcastle and had fought the National Front with the help of both Newcastle manager Kevin Keegan and Sunderland's Peter Reid.

By the mid-1990s football was on the verge of becoming the multi-million pound global game it is today and Grebby was keen to harness its pulling power in the fight against racism. It came after hours of letter-writing in the form of an envelope with £50 inside from United goalkeeper Shaka Hislop.

"We needed active involvement and that was what Shaka Hislop gave us," explains Grebby. "We got a letter from him with £50 inside it, which in those days was a lot of money, and that was how it started. Within a few months Shaka had agreed to come into a school with us, it was a very quick turnaround.

"On our first school visit to Westgate School - now Community College - which I think had failed its Ofsted report for racism, Shaka brought John Beresford with him and John admitted on that day that he had been a teenage racist who had learned the error of his ways through football. It made massive headlines.

"On our second school visit we had Les Ferdinand with us and he was mobbed when he came into the school, that was when we knew we had hit on something.

"When we started mission statements weren't really talked about, but we had one - `To combat racism by harnessing the high profile of professional footballers'."

With Newcastle on board, the other major clubs in the region, Sunderland and Middlesbrough, quickly followed.

Grebby continued: "We did a video in 1996 with 17 players on it, it all happened very quickly indeed with the help of the three local clubs. It mushroomed from there. The video was so successful that we started to get funding from elsewhere.

"The North-East was more racist than other areas of the country and it still is. Racism thrives on ignorance and the less likely you are to meet black or Asian people on a regular basis the more likely you are to think of them as alien.

"What we tried to do was change attitudes. At that time the big thing in the schools was football.

"Shaka tells a story on the first video in 1996 when he was filling up his car at the petrol station near St James's Park when he was racially abused by a group of teenage lads. Suddenly one them realised it was Shaka and they ran across the road to ask him for his autograph. That sums it up for me.

"To change attitudes people have to listen and who are they going to listen to more than their role models? We were one of the first organisations to realise the pulling power of football, we were lucky in that respect because lots of people realise how big it is now." Along with the likes of the national Kick Racism out of Football campaign, it is a mark of how successful Grebby and his team have been that racism towards black players has all but vanished from inside football stadiums.

But, there are new problems facing society that Grebby wishes to tackle in the same way.

"We've been asked to do things about homophobia in football and we have agreed to help," added Grebby. "We can use the role models to tackle other issues, we also use the Newcastle Falcons.

"It could be very useful. Homophobia is rampant in football. We'd support any kind of action against discrimination, for example in Scotland we're trying to tackle Sectarianism.

"There are new issues to tackle. Racism in the traditional form is very rare in football in this country, but there are hardly any Asians playing professional football or going to grounds to watch it.

"The scouts don't look in their leagues, there are the old prejudices that they won't play during Ramadan, that sort of thing. It is a problem and young British Muslims do feel ostracised after 9/11 and War Against Terror.

"We've not had a really high profile Muslim player up here, but we've got Emre and we'd love him to speak out. If he speaks to Muslim people up here he will know what attitudes are like."

And it is not just racism against Muslims which the campaign is tying to tackle, with the group's school visit teams identifying all sorts of worrying new trends.

Grebby said: "Our primary role is educational and our teams on the ground go into schools and four years ago they identified that anti-asylum was the new racism. When we went into schools, children associated the word asylum seekers with crime, terrorists and disease. It's all negativity.

"The other growth areas are travellers - there are so many stereotypes, so much suspicion and hatred - and the new one is migrant labour.

"The principle is the same, using role models in football to change attitudes. We want to expand, we want to have teams on the ground in every major city and town doing the sort of work we've seen be so successful up here."

Page 2: 'I followed the mob and their racist chants'

'I followed the mob and their racist chants'

John Beresford

John Beresford used to racially abuse black players as a fan, but he told Luke Edwards how professional football helped show him the error of his ways.

Like many white teenagers growing up in Britain's major towns and cities in the seventies and eighties John Beresford was on racism's frontline.

As a school pupil in Sheffield, Beresford shared a classroom with black friends, but when he went to watch his beloved Sheffield United he readily joined in the racists chants which plagued every black player on a visit to Bramall Lane.

Like so many of his peers, Beresford did not think he had anything personal against black people, he just joined in with the rest of the mob when they launched their vicious verbal abuse.

At times, he felt it was wrong, but it was only when he began to play football alongside black teammates that he learnt about the damage the mindless chants and jokes could have.

"I was asked to help Show Racism The Red Card when I was playing for Newcastle," reflects Beresford, who was one of the first players in the region to agree to help the campaign 10 years ago.

"I was asked whether I had any experience of racism in football and I said I did, that when I used to go to games as a teenager, I used to make monkey noises and I joined in the racist chants.

"It caused quite a stir at the time, but all the black teammates I had were just pleased I'd spoken about it. They knew I knew it was wrong, but it had helped highlight the issue.

"I'm not looking for a pat on the back, I'm not perfect, but I think the campaign has been so successful because white players have also spoken out against it. It's OK to have black players saying they've experienced this or that, but it helps when their white teammates come out and say how wrong it is.

"I had black friends at school, but I just followed the mob because I was at an impressionable age. I wasn't strong enough to say anything and I just went a long with it, like a lot of people did. It's the same with kids today.

"It's ignorance. I was still saying things like you `stupid black so-and-so' until I started playing for the England youth team and I shared a room with Darren Beckford. He called me a stupid little something and I said p*** off you black b******, or something similar.

"His face just dropped and he told me why it was wrong. Yes, I might just mean it as a joke, but for some people it isn't a joke, they are deadly serious. I was educated and that is what SRRC is all about."

Beresford, who now works as a pundit for Tyne Tees Television, is still a highly active member of the Show Racism The Red Card campaign and says it should take a huge amount of credit for helping to reduce racism in the region.

"The reason SRRC is so good is that it goes into schools," he explained. "It talks to them at an impressionable age and it uses football to take the message to them. I don't think there is a better vehicle to use because football is so big now, it's everywhere you look.

"I think there has been a massive improvement in the last 25 years, but there are still other forms of racism, such as anti-Muslim, to be fought against. Like most people I don't know much about Islam, I just know the basics.

"But for some people, they don't know much and all they see is that Muslims are terrorists and they believe that. It's ridiculous, but that is what some people believe because they don't know any better. If we can use some high-profile Muslim players, like Emre at Newcastle, it will have a major impact on young people as we have already shown with black players."


David Whetstone
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Mark Douglas
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