Newcastle United's Manager speaks to Show Racism the Red Card about his experiences of racism
Show Racism the Red Card caught up with our Honorary Patron Alan Pardew, manager of Newcastle United. He spoke to us about his experiences of racism growing up and the challenges that we face in combatting racism.
Have you ever witnessed racism as a young person growing up or within football?
Many, many times. Certainly in my youth racism was much more in the forefront of everyday life and it has been difficult for people of my generation, and the generation before, to even get the terminology correct. Some of the terms used at that time would not be acceptable by any stretch of the imagination today – quite rightly so.
When I was growing up there was a lot of racial abuse and, on the odd occasion, racial violence – I have experienced quite a fair bit of it.
You have spoken about growing up in a school that was very equal in terms of the number of black and white students; were there ever any clashes between groups?
Yes, there were times when I thought the school got segregated, especially at play time, when there wasn’t a lot of mixing going on amongst the groups. Actually I thought there may have been a bit of a tipping point in my era at that time, especially in school, and I thought that there were some barriers broken and that I wasn’t as bad as it may have been.
I imagine the situation would have been somewhat different with the generation before mine; they were good times because I had friends, and still do, who were from Afro-Caribbean backgrounds.
Considering racism was a huge problem in the 70s and 80s – did you ever come across it within the game?
My playing days were in the non-League during the 80s and there was definitely a lot of targeting for verbal abuse on the pitch. People would be called by the colour of their skin and usually a nasty word to follow – I don’t think I need to elaborate on that. People used to react to that but the people in the team I was in didn’t want to accept that for the black and mixed-race players that were playing with us. It was almost a trigger point to violence in those days.
The game has come on leaps and bounds since then and it could be argued that there is less racism in football than there is in society. What are your views on that?
I think that’s probably true, but the one side to professional football you may argue is why aren’t there more people from Asian descent playing? You would think, what with the amount of Asian people we have living in this country it would be more reflected in the game.
I can’t really put my finger on it because I have seen football at every level and I have seen good Asian players, but not many come through. As far as the game is concerned, racism is very, very rare and that it is better in society in this country than it ever was, in my opinion.
It is also a lot better than in some Eastern European countries, where it is particularly bad - and the England team as well as domestic sides have suffered - they have a lot to learn from what we’ve done in the UK. This includes campaigns like Show Racism the Red Card, and institutions like it, who have done such a great job in tackling the issue.
We have had a few but not enough, but I think that will change. What we are talking about is a generation of owners who are coming from that generation before mine that I spoke about and I think there may still be a little bit of that hanging around.
So is there a little bit of racism in the boardroom? Probably. This is may be to do with the circumstances and the time in which they were born. However, there are new boards, younger boards, and I think that will be eradicated, I really do.
Gary Bennett and Leroy Rosenior are two black former managers who work with us and they have described to us occasions where they weren’t even being let into the boardroom because people there didn’t believe they were the manager. Is that something that surprises you?
It doesn’t surprise me for the same reasons I answered the previous question. I am not for one minute suggesting it is right, but it is a fact; in that era and that generation racism was different to what it is now. However, with the work that Show Racism the Red Card is doing, along with the messages being spread elsewhere, we are doing more about it. With the next wave of directors, chairman and foreign owners, I think that will go because of the multicultural society we live in now.
That is not to say we should take our eye off of it because we know it is still there, what with the BNP and things like that which are still going on. I have been manager at West Ham where I have seen racism in some of its worst possible forms.
What would be an example of that?
Well there were leaflets handed out before games, which were trying to promote the closed thinking, you can’t open your mind, that Muslims drop bombs and Blacks steal radios kind of mentality. There were still big guys standing there giving leaflets out while I was still there as a manager, so we are only talking about four or five years ago.
So yes, I have experienced all of that and it is campaigns and institutions like Show Racism the Red Card that need to keep shining the floodlight on it to show that it is unacceptable.
You mentioned Muslims and one of the big growths in racism has been to do with Islamophobia. We do word association activities in our educational classes in schools and ‘Muslim’, more often than not, is closely followed by the word ‘bomb’. What are your views on this situation?
It is the media I think; they are the reason why we are having this conversation. The media have got a big problem with that in my opinion; they’ve not reflected Islam well with a constant drilling of information that is not balanced. I know there are some, like Show Racism the Red Card, who have tried to address it and they are absolutely right to because society will be reflected on these feelings and the feelings need to change.
If you look at our academy and satellite squads here, we must have about four or five thousand kids playing from all types of backgrounds. We watch everything, in terms of parents and coaches because you can only look after your world and if every did look after their world to try and correct racism then we would all be better for it.
You have a number of players at Newcastle who are Muslim – do you talk to them at all about their beliefs?
No, because it doesn’t enter my thinking if I’m being honest. I don’t discuss it unless they bring it up when they have been involved in some sort of racism or if something was said. I haven’t heard that from Demba Ba or Cheick Tiote, who are both Muslims, and I don’t see that.
From my experience with the Muslims players that I have, the media’s stereotypical view is not right at all and we have not had any problems integrating them with what we do.
Football in this country is a great melting pot and is indicative of multicultural society, with there being an incredible variety of nationalities and religions. Do you think this is something that has benefitted you personally?
In terms of racism, I feel I have been lucky due to the school I went to, the fact that I was born in Wandsworth, which is very multicultural and has been so for many years. All my life I have been around any number of different nationalities and different skin colours – I can’t really ever think that I have looked at a person’s skin before I looked at them as a person.
Skin colour is irrelevant, as is religion, and I think that if you are involved in a business, or just life with your friends, the first thing that should be considered is what kind of person they are. It should not matter what religion or skin colour they have been born in to, which is irrelevant for me.
It is important to give out the message that this closed mind attitude that some want to publicise is unacceptable. If we all had a more open mind to life it would be a lot sweeter for a lot more people than it is now.
Is football a good example to the rest of society in this respect?
I think so, I genuinely do and I think the media – although I have been slightly critical of the stereotypes they report – has been at the forefront against racism because there are a lot of multicultural faces and accents on the TV. I think that has been very good for British society and we’ve helped in our own little world of football to say that it is just the character of a person that matters.
Thank you to Alan Pardew for speaking to us and to everyone at Newcastle United for their ongoing support of our campaign.
Transcript by Brendan Simpson