Sunil Patel: From the Terraces to the Classroom - Why I'm so Passionate About 'Showing Racism the Red Card'
Like many young children today, I grew up with a big passion for football and I started supporting Tottenham Hotspurs from the age of 7 years old while growing up in London. One of my earliest memories was them winning the FA Cup in 1982 against QPR, it started my journey of being a lifelong Spurs fan.
This however was also a significant year in my life, not because my family moved from London to Cardiff, but, because of what happened to me later in the same year.
On 30th October 1982, I woke up with anticipation in the knowledge that I was going to watch my very first professional football match along with my older brother and his best friend.
As we walked towards the stadium alongside the fans, I remember feeling very nervous but excited at the same time.
We went through the turnstiles and headed towards the main stand of the ground amongst the home fans. I recall how loud it was when the fans started singing as the players came out of the tunnel and the excitement increased.
The three of us were standing amongst the crowd, all supporting the same team feeling enthusiastic but still very nervous. Then, around 10 minutes into the first half, we felt what we thought were rain drops on the back of our necks. It was only when we turned around we realised that a group of fans were spitting at us and started calling us ‘Paki’, a word we had never heard before but a word that we have unfortunately had to get used to hearing, even now in 2019.
I was put off going to watch football matches until I was in my 20’s and even to this day, I am never totally comfortable watching within stadiums as we still have a long way to eradicate racism from the beautiful game.
But football has brought me so much joy and together with my multiple life experiences of dealing with racism, I have used this as my motivation whilst leading the charity Show Racism the Red Card in Wales.
I am extremely proud of the work we do in Wales and the various activities we undertake, such as delivering school workshops and teacher training. Also supporting and working with football, rugby and other sports clubs across Wales whilst also advocating for under-represented groups across Wales.
Hate Crime continues to be on the rise with racially or religiously motivated offences making up over 80% in Wales. Having experienced racism from such a young age, I can understand the effects this can have and how you can be impacted, emotionally and mentally. It worries me deeply that many young people are suffering and trying to deal with racism in our communities. Therefore, it is crucial that everyone who is in a position of responsibility does their upmost to support our young people and the next generation.
I can recall sitting at my desk in 2008 and getting a call from a parent of a 10 year old pupil named Hannah Roberts, who was attending a school in Wales and was suffering terrible racism. The school didn’t know how to support Hannah and were not dealing with the problem. Within days, myself and ex-professional footballer, Leroy Rosenior, visited the school and at the end of the workshop, two young boys put their hand up and admitted using having used racist language and wanted to apologise. This was an important moment for Hannah because following the support we provided, she did not get anymore racism at the school and her grades improved along with her confidence and self-esteem. I would encourage everyone who works in education to watch Hannah share her experiences.
As a small charity operating in uncertain times, both economically and socially, we are not in a position to help as many schools as we would like. We have seen a record number of schools requesting support from us in Wales this academic year but due to resources, we are not able to support all of them.
With this in mind, we are currently encouraging teachers and school support staff in Wales to complete this survey. I hope many will complete this. We will use the results to enhance our work and support to the schools and prove that together we can ‘Show Racism the Red Card’.
Sunil Patel is the Campaign Manager for Show Racism the Red Card (Wales), the leading anti-racism education charity in Wales