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Bolton Nuts » BWFC » Bolton Wanderers News » Bolton striker Joe Dodoo discusses racist abuse in his youth

Bolton striker Joe Dodoo discusses racist abuse in his youth

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karlypants

karlypants
Nat Lofthouse
Nat Lofthouse
Making his way as a young footballer in the East Midlands Joe Dodoo regularly heard racial abuse designed to put him off his game.

Whereas ignorant remarks from the touchline never stopped him climbing through the ranks at Leicester City, or moving on to play at Glasgow Rangers and Wanderers, he still looks back at his formative years in football with a degree of frustration.

The 24-year-old is supporting Show Racism the Red Card, the UK’s leading anti-racism educational charity in the hope he can help young fans learn more about challenging and reporting discrimination if and when it happens.

A handful of local schools were recently invited to the University of Bolton Stadium for a workshop which involved a question and answer session with Dodoo, along with Wanderers’ fan liaison officer, Tony Kelly, and chief executive, Emma Beaugeard.

Speaking to The Bolton News, Dodoo recalled his early experiences of racist behaviour on the pitch and how it did affect his confidence.

“It happened to me quite a bit when I was younger,” he said. “You’d be beating an opposing team and they would try to find a way of getting back at you or slowing you down. Sometimes nothing would work, so nothing gets your attention more than a comment, some abuse. It’s just a little word that might try and get your attention or get you to react.

“When I was younger it did catch my attention and put me off my game. I’d be thinking ‘you can’t say that, it’s a game of football’ – why would anyone say that about me? For the person to be stooping to those levels is bang out of order.

“I struggled more as a younger person but as I got older I started to look at it more like ignorance – the individual is scared and not in control of themselves.

“As you get older you tend to ignore people like that. It’s weird how that mind works.

“But what I would say to anyone, and particularly younger footballers is if you can expose it – then you can stop them abusing other people or make them think about what they are doing.”

Born in Kumasi, Ghana, Dodoo moved with his grandmother to Nottingham at the age of eight.

He was spotted by the Foxes scouts playing youth football at the age of 13 and was called up by England’s Under-18s well in advance of making his senior bow in a League Cup game for Leicester against David Flitcroft’s Bury.

A hat-trick and an assist in that game prompted Flitcroft to bring the striker, then 20, to Gigg Lane for a loan spell, and it paved the way for a big move to Ibrox and the SPL.

Dodoo admits the comments have only slowed, not stopped, as his career progressed but now feels more able to deal with the problems that come along.

Earlier this year England's Euro 2020 qualifier against Bulgaria was overshadowed by racist abuse and clubs in Italy’s Serie A issued a joint statement at the weekend admitting not enough had been done to combat problems on the terraces.

Social media has also given rise to racist comments – with Manchester United’s Marcus Rashford and Paul Pogba both targeted in August.

Dodoo recognises the excellent work being done by Show Racism the Red Card, Kick it Out and others – and has urged Wanderers fans to show their support.

“You think about it and I’m 24, I was experiencing it at 13 and 14,” he said. “Lots of good work has been done but it’s still new and it’s still happening.

“The best thing to do is expose the individuals, let the world see their faces, because they are completely oblivious to the fact that we’re all human beings and all equal. You can’t treat people that way.

“I think things are getting better because younger people are learning but this year hasn’t been great because we have had a few cases which have hit the headlines. You have to make sure that people know they cannot get away with it.

“For me personally, I think it’s a new age. Everyone has different types of friends from different cultures and so people have had to open their eyes and be realistic – it’s a different skin colour, everything else is the same.

“It doesn’t make sense to see someone abused for something so basic. And that goes for your gender or your beliefs, I just think it’s ignorant and in 2019 it’s something that shouldn’t be happening at all.”

UEFA have been strongly criticised for ‘lenient’ punishment on racism, and instructed Bulgaria to play one match in November behind closed doors for the incidents that occurred in the England game the previous month.

The country’s football association have also been put on a two-year probation for further offences but Dodoo is among those who feel only heavier penalties will help stamp the issues out.

“There has to be a punishment, something much, much stricter,” he said. “We have been highlighting things for years – every day, every game in certain places something seems to crop up.

“It has to be something that catches fans’ attention. Bans for life for those who do it are OK but let’s make sure they actually get enforced, or that clubs and countries get punished.”

Wanderers are doing their bit. The club operate a zero-tolerance policy on discrimination both on matchdays, take a fully inclusive view on employment and the Community Trust also offer education programmes for offenders, along with support for anyone who has been a victim of abuse.

Speaking to around 100 pupils at the UniBol, former Burnden Park midfielder Tony Kelly hopes young fans will understand the importance of speaking up.

“I have been in the game 41 years,” he said. “Where I was from in Liverpool we just didn’t get educated on this sort of thing but when I went to Liverpool Football Club at about 13 or 14 I met Howard Gayle, who has been a great campaigner against racism, and he opened my eyes to how ignorant some views actually were.

“It isn’t just racism, it’s bullying as well, and I think people nowadays have got a voice.

“If it happens to young people, speak to a friend, speak to a teacher, speak to a parent, but make sure you report it right away.

“There’s always someone who will listen to you. Don’t just go home, sit in your bedroom and think it will all go away.”

The most recent report from Kick It Out claims that reports of discrimination at professional and grassroots football games rose by 32 per cent in the 2018/19 season, including a 43 per cent spike in racist abuse.

Some of that increase could be explained by the more efficient means to report abuse – via websites, apps or social media – or confidence is doing so.

Dodoo hopes parents can take a lead role in educating their children, and setting the right example when they watch Wanderers.

“There are young kids coming to games who need to be educated because they will see things about racism in the news and wonder what it is all about,” he said.

“This kind of thing gets passed on generationally. Dads will shout stuff that their sons or daughters will hear and think it’s OK. For me, that is where you have to set an example.

“You aren’t born with hate. You watch people do it and you learn.

“When they are young it’s easier to imprint something on their minds to let them know ‘this is wrong’ and that they can’t judge people by the colour of their skin.

“As parents and adults we need to set better examples. As they get older they will just mirror what they learned when they were young. We’ll never, ever stop it because when you are older it’s harder to change opinions.

“Every parent should look at themselves and wonder if they are behaving the right way.”

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