Goalkeeper Tangara on racism in football: Ridiculous things have been said about my family
According to Home Office figures, more than 150 incidents of racism in football were reported to the police in the 2018-19 season, an increase of 50% on the previous year.
The sharp rise in cases reinforces the need for change, both in football and in our wider society.
Bognor goalkeeper Amadou Tangara has spoken of the regularity with which black footballers are mistreated, sharing his own experience of racial abuse from last season.
“When I was playing for Merstham last year, there was an incident against Leatherhead. We won the game in the last minute and a fan shouted some awful things to me. Fortunately, the club and the other fans stood against it straight away and I believe he was banned by Leatherhead for a number of games,” he explained.
After the incident, the FA got the culprit to send Tangara a letter of apology. Although he was grateful for the retrospective action taken by the authorities, the goalkeeper emphasised that there was still a long way to go before racial abuse was eradicated from the game.
There is no suggestion that Tangara has suffered any racist comments from Bognor fans - in fact he is in praise of the love and support they have shown him since he came to the club last October.
He said: “Racism is all over the world. FIFA, the FA and UEFA are doing their best to tackle it in football but things like this shouldn’t happen nowadays. We go out there to play – this is the game we love. Nobody should be abused because of his skin colour or his sexual orientation or anything like that,” he stated earnestly.
As a goalkeeper, Tangara can be particularly vulnerable to racial abuse, as he must endure 45 minutes in front of opposition’s fans every match. According to Bognor’s No1, playing between the sticks is one of the hardest jobs in the game, especially as a black footballer.
“You are open to so much more abuse because you’re right in front of the opposition’s crowd. Even this year, I have been abused – my family, my mum, my wife – ridiculous things have been said about my family. We shouldn’t go through this. People need to take responsibility for their actions. Your team losing the game isn’t an excuse,” he said.
Although he is strong mentally and has grown to ignore the comments made from behind the goal, Tangara fears that consistent and regular abuse could cause some players to give up football altogether.
“People need to understand that these comments can affect someone badly. It can cause people to quit the game. Imagine playing 35 or 40 games a season and being abused in every single match. It would take the love of the game away,” stressed Tangara.
The Ivorian’s comments perhaps provide an explanation for the profound lack of black goalkeepers in high-level football. In January, Ajax’s Cameroonian shot-stopper, André Onana, informed the Spanish magazine, Marca, that a club once decided not to sign him because of his skin colour; they openly told him that a black goalkeeper would struggle to gain followers and snubbed the negotiation.
Fortunately, Tangara’s first season at Bognor has been an immensely positive one and the goalkeeper has certainly not been shy of a following at Nyewood Lane.
“Bognor has been very special. The fans have been the most fantastic part of my time here. They are the ones that have made me feel especially welcome. After two or three games, they already had a song for me. It’s special when I hear people singing my name and waving my country’s flag,” he said.
Eager to repay the Rocks faithful with his performances on the pitch, Tangara said he was itching to play as soon as possible, once it was safe to do so. He said the Premier League’s return, following its interruption amid the coronavirus pandemic, offered hope that non-league football might not be too far away.
Wednesday’s Premier League action, the first post-lockdown action there had been, was preceded by a powerful, synchronised gesture in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. Those inside the stadium knelt in unison to endorse the international campaign against racism.
The symbolic act originated in the NFL, when Colin Kaepernick knelt during a pre-game national anthem in 2016, in protest of police brutality against African-Americans in the United States. Manchester City’s Raheem Sterling, who has previously spoken out against racism in football, stated that the Premier League’s demonstration was a ‘massive step’ in the fight for racial equality.
Although it may be too late for Tangara’s generation to feel fully accepted, it is everyone's responsibility to continue raising awareness for Black Lives Matter and promote positive change both in the world of football and wider society as a whole.
Get all the latest from Nyewood Lane in the Bognor Observer on Thursday