Sunday 20 January 2019

Aidan Fitzmaurice: Racism must be kicked out of Irish football

A "shoe bomber". A "black bastard". Just some of the names that Eamon Zayed has been called in recent years. Not in a taxi queue late at night or in a pub, but on fields of play in the League of Ireland.

It's nine years since Zayed -- who is a Dubliner born and bred even though he plays international football for Libya's senior team -- made his LOI debut, in the colours of Bray Wanderers.

A snarled comment of "Get up you black b*****d", spat at Zayed by an opposition player from an un-named club after the pair challenged for a ball in the early part of his career was an early introduction into the nasty, sickening mindset of racism that permeates Irish society and, sadly, spreads to football.

A decade on, has anything changed? In view of the treatment that Zayed says he has been subjected to while playing for Derry -- especially in games which Zayed was playing in his native city of Dublin -- not much.


Most shocking of all is the allegation made by Zayed, which is now officially a matter for the FAI as his formal complaint is contained in the match delegate's report from Monday's game away to Shamrock Rovers, that an opposing player in that game made a racially abusive comment towards him during the game.

Rovers said last night that they will fight the claim, stating that "the club has spoken to the player in question and he completely refutes the accusation that has been made against him".

To think that in the Ireland of 2011 that a player could make the alleged comment towards a fellow professional is deeply disturbing.

Racism is not endemic in the game, but just one incident -- one banner, one chant, one comment -- can cause undue pain and damage.

We've had a string of well-meaning schemes. The Give Racism The Red Card programme, the FAI's 10-point plan on anti racism, constant vigilance and public awareness.

But that sickening underbelly of racism bubbles away, in football and in society.

Zayed has been on the end of racial abuse which, he has said in a complaint to the FAI, has come from the stands as well as on the pitch.

Countries like Spain, Italy, Serbia and Russia have tried -- but struggled -- to deal with the problems of racism in football and mass displays of racist chanting or banners.


But Zayed wasn't playing in Belgrade or Moscow when he was racially abused. He was playing in his native city, playing in games just a few miles from his family home on Dublin's southside.

And that racism is not new, as he admitted in a column he penned last year when he revealed past incidents of abuse.

What happens next is a big test for the FAI and for the clubs here in Ireland. For now, it's one man's word against another's. Zayed says that his opponent made the insulting comment, Rovers say their player denies the charge. If no one else heard the two-word slur which was allegedly made towards Zayed then we're in unchartered territory.

To tolerate the Zayed incident, if proven, and brush it under the carpet will damage the game here for decades.

Youngsters like Ayomide Kusigbagbe (Dundalk), Van Mambouana (Limerick), and Arkadiusz Mamala (Clare) are this very week in Limerick, representing their leagues and counties at the Kennedy Cup.

They should all aspire to playing League of Ireland football, maybe playing for Ireland some day.

They should not be driven out of football and of this country by racists, whether those racists are on the terraces or playing for the opposition.

Irish football owes them and owes Eamon Zayed.

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