Ask anyone about racism in football and they’ll all say the same thing: “more needs to be done.”
At Kick it Out, though, they are working tirelessly to promote equality in football and eradicate what is one of the long-lasting stains on the beautiful game.
Last season, the organisation, along with the Premier League, took their work to another level through their education programme, ‘Equality Inspires’.
Spearheaded by Troy Townsend, Paul Mortimer and Marcus Gayle, the initiative sees members of the KickItOut team visit academies up and down the country and provide workshops for the young players involved.
“This ranges from U9 players to development squads (U23s), staff to parents,” Townsend said.
“If there’s going to be an understanding of equality and inclusion, the focus needs to be on young players – especially with the focus on them being bigger than ever before.
“At these workshops, we discuss things such as racism and homophobia – topics people shy away from.
“We look at ‘banter’ in all its formats and what crosses the line.
“For those receiving it, it could impact on performance.
“Imagine a young player who is away from home, living alone in digs away from parents, and he’s getting picked on. The teammates may think it’s harmless but it may have a negative impact.
“That’s just one scenario. But we really do try and challenges, clubs, coaches and parents to build environments where everyone feels valued.”
It’s a far cry from the resources available when Townsend was a player in the 1980’s.
“When I was growing up in the game, no one ever sat me down and spoke about off the pitch,” he said.
“Things like racism and homophobia weren’t even challenged. But it’s vital that the education is there for the young players of today.
“It won’t just put them in good stead on the pitch but also when they go off into society as well.”
While the feedback from the clubs has been “immense”, it’s also gained significant support from the Premier League.
“I can’t speak highly enough of them,” he said. “They’ve been great to work with and really flexible which allows us to tailored programmes to the academy players that we visit.”
Alongside the Premier League, Kick It Out host the ‘Academy Awareness Weekend’ on selected dates throughout the calendar, which sees academy fixtures throughout the country dedicated to their work on promoting equality in all areas in football.
— Troy Townsend (@Towno10) May 4, 2017
The workshops have also been a steep learning curve for the parents involved. Townsend, more than most, understands the role of a parent in their child’s development, especially off the pitch. He is the father of Andros Townsend, who current plays for Crystal Palace. “Luckily, he [Andros] had a good network around him, both at home and at Tottenham, where he started,” Townsend said. “People like John Mcdermott and Chris Ramsey knew they had to get best out of him and they deserve great credit for that.” A parent’s role is much more than taking their child to training and leaving them at the gates.
An afternoon spend listening to some honest opinions @WatfordFC Academy. A club committed to educating about equality #EqualityInspires pic.twitter.com/9pKqEOYfPw — Troy Townsend (@Towno10) April 6, 2017
What goes on in those car journeys – the things that are said, the criticisms, the praise, the engagement – often have a long lasting effect, as does their demeanour on the sidelines.
It for this reason why parental inclusion has also been vital in these workshops.
“We’ve had parents tell us that the clubs don’t talk to them and they’re often in the dark,” he said.
“So we really want to bridge that gap. With Andros, the coaches at Tottenham were always approachable and we want more clubs to be the same. That way, parents can do their bit at home as well.
“I had a parent tell me that their son didn’t talk for three days because of a negative experience during a game. If there is that openness between parent and coach then perhaps the parents could have got the bottom of it quicker.”
For all the constructive work, however, it hasn’t always been plain sailing, especially when it comes to the views of a parent.
“At one club, I met a parent who was quite a controversial figure and said that, while he and all dads should take their son’s to football, the mums should be home in the kitchen.
“It was all quite aggressive.
“What he didn’t realise, though, was that he was talking to a mum who has boys in two different academies. It became quite an encounter.
“I lead to me talking to the father in question and explaining that days of thinking like that are long gone, and left him with food for thought. It was a shame to hear, though.
“It was nice to get an email from the mother in question on the way we handled the situation, but it was an eye opener, as it’s likely that certain views filter down to the children, and that’s what we want to eradicate.”