This article appeared in Issue 1 of Red Menace.
Newham Monitoring Project (NMP) is a grassroots, community-based anti-racism organisation based in Newham. It was set up to provide support against racial violence and discrimination and combat police misconduct and institutional racism.
The following are extracts from NMP annual reports detailing racist violence faced by players and fans of London Bari FC in the late ‘90s. For more information on NMP, visit www.nmp.org.uk
NMP Annual Report 1997
On 27th January 1997, Bari football club, a team made up predominantly of Asian youth that prides itself in supporting football initiatives within the local Asian community, experienced the ugly face of racism in only its first season in the South Essex Football League.
On arriving at Cottons Park, the ground of Romside FC, Bari became the target of continuous racial and physical abuse. Despite this hostile reception, the team decided to play in spite of the concerns of many of the players. Before the game, the Bari players were taunted by the Romside team, setting the tone for the racist abuse from both players and supporters in the following ninety minutes, as shouts of “pakis, brown shit and monkeys” echoed around the ground.
Despite this, Bari scored after only ten minutes but the goalscorer was soon informed that “if you win, you won’t get home alive”. Within 25 minutes, one Romside player who had attacked seven of the Bari team was sent off for headbutting an opponent but the treatment of the remainder of the Bari team continued, not only from the field. One Romside supporter threatened to set his Pit Bull terrier on a Bari player and the 17-year-old refused to participate any further in the game. Meanwhile, the Bari goalkeeper had coins thrown at him and, at the final whistle, was set upon by a number of the spectators and a Romside player. Having survived what one Romside player described as a “Paki-bashing spree”, the whole Bari team was set upon in the changing rooms. Only their willingness to fight back saved them from serious injury.
What followed will be all too familiar to those who have read NMP’s previous annual reports. First, the secretary of Bari FC was contacted by Romford police, who accused the team of attacking Romside players and threatened arrests if the names and addresses of the Bari team were not give. On top of this, Essex Football Association charged Bari with misconduct. It was at this stage that the team contacted NMP.
The Project arranged press coverage highlighting the experiences of racist violence that the Bari players had suffered, which attracted widespread local and national coverage and revealed the extent of racism within Sunday league football. We got the team a solicitor and within 72 hours, all charges against them had been dropped. We spoke with the boys and their families and accompanied them to the FA disciplinary hearing. Unfortunately, as one of the boys commented, the panel consisted of “five elderly white gentlemen, who had decided we were guilty before we arrived”.
NMP Annual Report 1998
However, this was not an isolated incident, for there were further serious racist assaults on Bari during a match against Wanstead Holly in November 1998, in which a number of players were severely injured. The police were called and arrested four Wanstead Holly players. The following extracts from a letter to the Sunday and District Football League set out what happened.
“One Wanstead Holly player was booked for violent conduct and another sent off after he stepped on our goalkeeper’s arm purposefully and then hit one of our players in the face. During a minor scuffle… which the referee was dealing with, the sent-off player and his team mates attacked our goalkeeper and one of the defenders… The Wanstead Holly team and these supporters (who invaded the pitch)… stamping, kicking and flogging the two Bari players with a corner flag, hitting the linesman over the head with the same object, as well as racist jibes and taunts throughout.
Of the Bari players attacked, one was knocked unconscious with injuries to his back, ribs, head and face, another had large cuts above his eye and severe bruising and a third had concussion from the beating. All had to be taken to by ambulance to hospital.
As a player in a predominantly Asian team I find it difficult to understand and accept that the racist violence, taunts and thuggery that go on in these matches will go on unpunished by the League and local Football Associations. Bari joined this league on the information that this was a ‘friendly’ league and that we would not be subjected to the same form of racial abuse and violence encountered in the South Essex League. It seems that we were misled and/or teams are aware they shall go unpunished”.