Mark Tallentire looks at the Everton board's move against racist chants by their away fans that brought shame on the club
As if Walter Smith did not have enough to do in deciding which member of his squad to play out of position next, the Everton manager had to find time in the run-up to Christmas to make a statement about the racist behaviour of more than a few of the club’s travelling fans.
“There is no place for racism at Everton FC and we shall do everything within our power to root out the culprits,” Smith told the club’s website after fans complained about racist abuse at the away matches against Leicester and Fulham. “We feel so strongly about this that, if necessary, we shall consider halting the sale of tickets for our away fixtures.” Smith was joined in those sentiments by the chairman Sir Philip Carter and owner Bill Kenwright, who even offered to sit among the fans at the Sunderland game on December 22 to help get to the root of the problem.
Racial divides in Britain’s provincial cities have been highlighted since the summer riots and the additional tensions created by September 11, and Liverpool is as badly integrated as anywhere. The right-wing tendencies of a minority of Everton’s following have been remarked on for years, but the subject finally became headline material at Leicester two seasons ago, in the aftermath of the deaths of two Leeds fans in Istanbul, when Muzzy Izzet was horribly abused for opting to play for Turkey.
That was followed by the infamous shirt-swap affair at Arsenal in April when a disgruntled yob came on to the pitch to confront Alex Nyarko, a much-vaunted midfielder, who soon after his arrival found God and promptly lost his passion for the game.
While that incident has not been directly linked to race, Nyarko’s request to be substituted, announcement of his retirement and subsequent move to Monaco have left Everton short of a player and unlikely to recoup anywhere near the £4.5 million they paid for him.
It is costing the club dear and a tannoy announcement before the recent home game with Derby addressed the “handful of bigots” responsible for the problem – perhaps 60 or 70 and including a minibus load who travel from the midlands for most games and who clear their throats en route by routinely abusing black passers-by. The announcer signed off with the line: “We don’t want you here.” It was greeted by a huge round of applause.
Everton are now sending letters to everyone who has bought a ticket for an away match this season, asking for their support and warning that racist abuse will not be tolerated. Extra stewards, police and spotters, all paid for by the club, will also be accompanying travelling fans. Life bans are being threatened.
Perhaps the message is getting through as there were no racist chants at Sunderland the following week, when the home team’s Claudio Reyna joined a long list of players who have opened their account for new clubs in matches against Everton.
The American had arrived earlier in the month, not long after his final Old Firm game for Rangers, when he had to endure a sick reference to the September 11 attacks from a Celtic fan who was caught on camera and had his season ticket withdrawn. Everton have been forced to point the way forward but, as that incident showed, they are far from alone in confronting the problem.
From WSC 180 February 2002. What was happening this month