Where did you grow up and did you experience any racism?
I grew up in a place called Clifton in Nottingham, which is a very large council estate and there was definitely some racism that I had to go through when I was growing up. Thinking back to the early 80s as well, my mum was white and my dad was black, which was very rare in our area.
A lot of racism was not only thrown towards me, but also my mum, about my dad and about me, on the street. At that particular time, it was almost ignorance, and a lack of education, which I always called it because a lot of the people around that area were brought up that way by their parents, and they pass it on to their kids.
I always knew that to change that cycle, at some point, kids had to start getting a lot more educated at schools and in life.
People who suffer from racist abuse can deal with it differently. How did you deal with it personally?
Yes they do and at first it started off with aggression, I used to just meet it with fighting – when I was at school I constantly got in trouble for it. That was early doors and it wasn’t really an issue for me because if somebody came at me racially I would react.
Eventually as I got older I learned how to deal with a lot better – my mum helped me through it because she had had to deal with it. My dad helped me through it because he was playing semi-professional football at the time and having to deal with it. So I was getting a lot of help throughout the family.
What would be your advice to a young person who is suffering from racism now?
Talk to people, because it is hard when you are young and you immediately hear a name and think ‘I want to stop that’, so you start a fight or maybe call them another vicious name back, which is just as bad.
My advice to youngsters would be not to react if they experience it but to talk to their parents or somebody who is close, like a teacher, or someone they respect who can help them.
There has been a sea change in football when it comes to racism – have you noticed any change during your time in the game?
Yes, definitely. In England it has anyway. Especially since I used to watch my dad play non-league football. I watched my cousin play for Middlesbrough and Bradford, so I have always been around the game
Obviously now I am experiencing it myself and it is not gone, but it is definitely a million times better than it used to be. This is fantastic and it is all because of campaigns like Show Racism the Red Card.
We have still got it in the game, but it has declined quite a bit. Do you think there are any particular reasons for the decline?
I think that a long time ago, in the 70s or 80s, maybe even before that, if somebody shouted a racist comment in the crowd there would be giggles. Whereas now, I definitely think the majority of the nation would frown upon it, or take offence to it themselves.
There are a lot more inter-racial families now, whether it is black with white, Asian with white or Asian with Black – there are a lot more different mixes now, so a lot more people are taking offence to these issues. Even families that aren’t inter-racial are educated enough now to confront someone in the crowd or street that is making those remarks.
I think it is definitely frowned upon more, hence the decline.
England were recently playing Bulgaria and there was racism in the crowd towards England’s black players. Is that something you have experienced while playing in another country?
Yes, definitely. It has definitely declined in England, but in Europe, I’m not so sure. Every time I’ve been to Europe, if it hasn’t been me, it has been one of my fellow players who has had to deal with racial abuse.
For some reason it doesn’t seem to be punished out there and it doesn’t seem to be declining in any shape or form, so I’m not sure what can be done to change that like the way we’ve done it in England.
We have got the Euros coming up in Ukraine and Poland – do you think it could become an issue again within the game?
I hope not because it is such a fantastic tournament and you want to be talking about football and the excitement of seeing the top quality players, not whether somebody has had to deal with racial abuse.
It is unfortunate that it is the way of the world that it's out there, but I am sure those countries will know that they are definitely going to be under the spotlight in those championships and have, or will have, campaigns in place leading up to it, to make sure that it is not acceptable and that everybody going to the games knows that.
Justin Hoyte of Middlesbrough told us of receiving abuse like that and he said at Under-21 level he was getting spat at by players in Eastern Europe, as well as the monkey chants from the crowd. Do you talk about it as players or is the response as a team?
As a team, because it’s a team as a whole that involves not just players, but staff and the club or country you are representing. If a player is having to deal with racial abuse it should be reported and you should go down the necessary lines to make sure it doesn’t happen anymore or that the person giving out the abuse, whether it be a player or a fan, is dealt with properly, and either made so they are not in the game, or they are disciplined, because it cannot keep happening.
Islamophobia has been on the rise in the last ten years and it is one of the major areas of racism that we pick up upon. Have you played with Muslim players in your career?
No but I have played against a lot of Muslim players in my career, mainly when I was a lot younger though. Having said that, there were maybe a few people that are Muslim and I didn’t realise.
I feel like the Muslim community have had to deal with a lot more racism unfortunately, due to everything that is going on in the world, in terms of terrorism and so on. They just get the finger pointed at them and it is not right, so that is why Show Racism the Red Card campaigns are great to help fight all racism.
Each different ‘race’ may go through different periods in history where it is a lot tougher for them. It has declined a lot with black players in football, but now the Muslim community are, at the moment, probably suffering a lot more than most other groups.
We have also done a campaign on homophobia, in terms of combating that in the terraces. What would you say with regards to young kids getting that kind of abuse?
They are all great campaigns and something like homophobia, especially for young kids who might be going through something where they don’t know what’s happening, and thinking they might want to speak to somebody or need to express how they feel.
Why would it be right for any other kids or adults to make fun of that whole situation? So, again, I can only praise the campaigns and hopefully they are successful.
When we started our campaign first started 15 years ago, 25% of players were black. Chris Houghton and Chris Powell are the only black managers in the football league – why do you think there is such an underrepresentation?
It’s a good question; I’m not sure. Paul Ince was another one who was managing at one point, but I’m really not sure.
Is management something you would want to go into?
My mind changes every day. Some days I feel like I do want to go into management because I feel like I am a character that could handle management and would eventually go into it.
I would love to do it but, as to why there are fewer black players managing now, I’m not sure whether it is due to a lack of black ex-professionals going down the route of wanting to be managers. Or is it due to a lack of opportunities at top clubs and therefore losing interest and enthusiasm as these opportunities get passed on to other people? I’m really not sure, I would have to look at the facts before I made a comment on that.