It was at around the 2-0 mark during the first-half at Ashton Gate when the bloke behind me openly and confidently hurled racist abuse at Ashley Fletcher for failing to hold up one of Lee Camp’s goal kicks - the type of jeer that pierces the silence and disappointment with flecks of spit and a brazen level of discrimination.
I think most of us have heard this sort of racism at some point or another when we’ve been to watch Sunderland, and I’m sure it’s something that occurs within the majority of football grounds across the country on a weekly basis. Whether we choose to ignore it or not is our own decision, but whether we like it or not racism remains a sickening problem within football.
We’re all familiar with the dark days of football racism throughout the 70s and 80s - the monkey chants and banana throwing, the type of horrors that the likes of Cyril Regis and Gary Bennett had to put up with throughout their careers. Whether you were there to witness it first hand or heard of it on the telly, it’s familiar.
Anti-racism educational charities like Show Racism the Red Card have done good work in changing racial behaviours in football, but perhaps it’s became another piece of an iconography within the game. Anti-racism messages have become as common as Lucozade sponsorship; sanitised and unacknowledged by many.
This isn’t an attack on Sunderland fans. We are some of the most honest, accepting, and moral people in the country who live our lives and follow our team with pride and dedication week in, week out. This is a message for the small minority of insecure little men who can’t seem to grasp the severity of their actions and the impact they have on the people they abuse, their own children, and society as a whole.
Football stadiums can be intimidating places, and away ends more so. Believe me, I’m not the type to go out looking for confrontation and I know the majority of us aren’t either. Most of us just want to go watch Sunderland with our mates or family and enjoy our Saturdays away from the confines of work or school, or whatever. This isn’t a call to arms either, I don’t expect you to stand up to this sort of thing at matches - sometimes these people aren’t worth the hassle, it’s intimidating.
The thing about the sort of people who would racially abuse anyone, let alone their own players is that they’re the type of person who whole-heartedly lack morality and intelligence. They feel a deep pain inside of themselves that they don’t quite understand.
They’re insecure and frightened; they’re little boys in men’s bodies who haven’t managed to find any joy in life other than demeaning others. The short of it is that they’re scum, and these people shouldn’t be associated with the fantastic fanbase that this club has.
We - firstly humans and secondly supporters - must be accountable in at least trying to stamp this vile racism out of our stadiums and the game. I don’t know whether it was the sheer nihilism that came over me throughout that first half but turning around to stand up to that idiot behind me was more appeasing than our equaliser in injury time.
Next time you hear this sort of thing at the match or in general, assess the situation. You may be with your mates or in a group. Deep down these people are scared, one comment from a few earnest lads and they’ll stop. They’ll probably do it again, but in my opinion I think that we need to try our best to slowly whittle the branch of racism smaller and smaller. At the least, inform a steward of what you’ve seen and/or heard.
The majority of us will never have to defend ourselves from racial abuse in our lives - our skin colour and privilege upends that - but it’s our duty as humans and Sunderland fans collectively to work together to put an end to racism, one bigot at a time.