Murray: 'Racial abuse is rare in England'
We’ve always thought of the game in England as being the best in the world. We boast the greatest league, some of the highest wages, and we used to think it was the fairest and most sporting league on the planet. Just as important, the issue of racism was one that many of us presumed was almost eradicated from our shores thanks to the work of the anti-racism organisation "Kick It Out".
The problem, though, has come to the forefront of the English media over the past 12-months because of incidents between Luis Suarez and Patrice Evra, and John Terry and Anton Ferdinand. The truth is, racist behavior has always been a part of football, hidden in the game, and sometimes swept under the carpet to save the public image of the brand that is English football.
Matt Murray, the former Wolverhampton Wanderers and England Under-21 international goalkeeper, has dealt with the issue of racism in football ever since he began playing the game in the predominantly caucasian area of the English Midlands where he grew up.
Having been adopted by two white foster parents when he was young, Matt stood out as one of the only black footballers on the local football pitches from a very early age.
“When I was playing, most weeks I was the only black player on either side,” Murray told Football.com. "I remember people marking me and saying at 8-9 years of age ‘my dad says that if I stamp on your toes I get two points because there’s not many of you in the league.’ I didn’t really think much of it, but now you look back at it and think.”
Matt described these incidents as being “nothing too bad”, and he could be right, especially when compared to what happened to him one night on an England Under-21 trip to Italy in 2003.
"I came out to warm up, with Lee Grant,” Murray said. “Where the goalkeepers were warming up there was a section and they had masks on [and were wearing] swastikas. They basically abused us for the whole warm up. Now the coach said, 'do you want to warm up on the other side?' and I said, 'hell, I aint moving. Their security should come and take them out of the stadium'. Now I know that if that was in England that you couldn’t be in a stand with 3-400 people in masks with swastikas and stuff, but this was only in 2003. I couldn’t believe it.”
This sort of incident, although uncommon, did happen on more then one away trip with the national squad, but there were occasions when Murray, now aged 31, did come face to face with racial abuse on home soil. “It’s very rare in our game but if you go abroad you get it more from the fans. There are certain stadiums in England where it wasn’t unusual to get a comment from the fans. You can’t hear one comment over everyone else, but when your stood in goal and it goes quiet you’d hear someone call you a black . . . Something like that you do hear.”
The recent incidents of racial abuse (or alleged racial abuse in the case of John Terry) been between fellow players on the pitch and, while Murray has not experienced this personally as a professional, he does know of a player who has, yet the story was seemingly swept under the rug.
“It happened to a very good friend of mine, he got racially abused along with his team mates. It happened at a very big club, everyone heard about it and they pressed charges and they were very disappointed that it didn’t get enough backing from the FA. It got brushed under the carpet, from both sides his team and the team the player played for and for that reason now, my friend refuses to wear kick racism out of football t-shirts [during Kick It Out’s awareness weeks in the season]. I was and am disappointed, because I know my friends not lying and there were witnesses. If I was a white player or a black player I’d be disappointed because I think it’s wrong.”
The hero of the 2003 playoff final, in which Wolves defeated Sheffield United to reach the Premier League, believes firmly that a lot of the trouble boils down to pure ignorance, and despite feeling let down by "Kick It Out" and the FA regarding his friend's incident, Matt still knows that the work that Kick It Out performs is still is a major part of the fight against racism in football, especially when they get high profile player to help with their campaigns.
“I like the idea [of Kick It Out]. The message is we’ve all got to try and be one and when people in a privileged position, a respected position, you know other people are going to listen. When someone’s racist and the centre forward of the team he dreamed of playing for says something, he’ll listen to that more then [he’ll listen to] a guy on the street.”
Matt Murray can be found as a pundit and co-commentator working for a number of media outlets