Is football in Harlow plagued by racism?

THE MANAGER of Changing Lives FC, a football team of refugees has alleged that his team are victims of systemic racism on the football pitches of Harlow.

David Simmons made the comments on a sports podcast called sportsspielonline.com. You can listen to the interview below.

Changing Lives FC has gained national and international publicity as the first group of refugees to come together and play competitive football

But in the hour long interview, chairman and manager David Simmons paints a picture of what can only be described as an epidemic of racism on the football pictures of Harlow as he says they are “plagued by racist abuse”

David told Sportspielonline: “It was hard for the boys because there was lots of racism and discrimination towards them and there were occasions when there was violence on the pitch.

“I think our team had the most yellow and red cards because our players reacted to what the other teams were saying to them. The other team knew they would get a reaction from them.”

“Discrimination and racism still exist, and you’ve got everything going on with the FA – the most topical thing with the chairman [Greg Clarke] resigning due to his comments.

“We’ve had to have hearings already regarding fights on the pitch and what teams have said about our players.

“It still exists, it’s still happening when we’re playing, and I’ve had to invest in a video camera which tracks and monitors the football, but it also picks up on what people say.

“It gives these players a bit of protection. I didn’t want to have to do that, but I felt I had to, to protect my players.

“Racism and discrimination is still happening every Sunday – it is, it really is.

“We’ve had to appeal and go to FA hearings because one of our players was subjected to discrimination. From that it turned into a mass brawl and I had to get statements, witnesses and it turned pretty ugly.

“That’s the sad thing – we know in these games we are going to be targeted because of what sort of team we are.

“But every game I tell the boys not to react. That’s exactly what they want.

“They want us to fight, they want us to get involved in these altercations but I’m telling them ‘lads, you can’t do that, you’ve just got to walk away’.

In relation to the incidents of racism, an Essex FA spokesperson said: “Discrimination has no place at any level of football. We’re committed to ongoing prevention of this sort of behaviour but, if found proven, strong and appropriate punishments will be enforced. It’s important that any allegations are reported and dealt with.

“During a game, these can be reported to the match referee. After the game, we can be contacted in a variety of ways, highlighted on our website and TheFA.com. There is also the Kick It Out website at www.kickitout.org, plus the Kick It Out reporting app.

“It’s crucial individuals have the confidence to report such incidents, and they can see the transparency in the investigations. Evidence is gathered and fully investigated, in liaison with The FA. There is no ceiling for fines or suspensions of an aggravated nature, and completion of an FA Education course is mandatory.

“We also organise FA Education Workshops for youth teams (aged Under 12s and below) as opposed to a charge for discrimination, which is perceived as a more effective sanction than a charge for the younger players.

“It’s also important to remember the ongoing prevention work. We have a Moving Forward Strategy which outlines our commitment to achieving Equality Standard ‘Intermediate Level’, affirming that we’re focussed on ensuring grassroots football opportunities are open and accessible for all.

“We also collaborated with leagues, clubs and parents to deliver Parent Workshops last season, which proved very popular. Additionally, the Respect and #WeOnlyDoPositive Campaigns are sharing best practice, especially on social media. If discrimination is witnessed, please report it.”

SportSpiel also approached the Harlow and District Football League for a statement in relation to the incidents of racism and discrimination.

League secretary, Alvyn Charles, said: “I am deeply saddened to hear that Mr Simmons has made these comments about the racism his team has experienced.

“The two incidents that have been brought to my attention by Mr Simmons were deemed on both occasions to not be of a racist content. As HDFL is a multi-cultural league, if there were any forms of racism we instruct all teams that if/when it occurs we have procedures in place and always have informed the Essex FA who themselves would conduct their own investigation.”

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YourHarlow has been down to two games this season. One game in late August up at Barn Mead and another game on Sunday against Epping Rangers opposite the Phoenix on Tillwicks Road.

We didn’t hear a single racist comment or witness any form of abuse. After the game, we spoke to the referee who told us that there was not a single racist incident during the game. A few yellow cards for foul play in what was otherwise a fair game played in a good spirit.

As you may see at the end of the game, the players acknowledge each other.

We are passing our story on to Harlow Council. The games are played on their property and they have indicated that the would investigate any hate crimes on their football pitches.

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