FOUR travellers, who had been playing soccer for Sporting Ennistymon, have left the sport following numerous incidences of racist abuse.
Figures in the club have voiced their upset at the abuse meted out to the young men, which had become increasingly frequent since the beginning of the current season.
Secretary of the Clare District Soccer League, Michael Lydon, refused to comment on the issue on Wednesday.
Twenty-four-year-old Michael Sherlock had played for the club, along with his brothers, Edward and Patrick, and their cousin, Martin Mongan. He said that, in recent months, opponents had increasingly sought to insult their background.“We go out and play and you have fellas saying into your ear, ‘Go away, you knacker’. When we react, the referee doesn’t do anything to the other party.”
Earlier this year he was sent off in a match played at Lees Road after reacting to a person who referred to him as a “knacker”, while the player who dispensed the offensive comment went unpunished.
“A fella goes, ‘You knacker!’ I reacted, I went head-to-head withhim, I didn’t hit him, or anything like that. He said ‘knacker’ and he put up his hands and he was shadow boxing me. I didn’t do anything back. He said it again, the referee saw this and he just turned around and smiled.
“Then when I reacted, I raised my foot, I didn’t touch him, I raised my foot, but there were lads between us. The referee came over and he gave me a straight red card. He told me get off and I said did you not see what the other person did; he raised his hands at me, he was giving me racist comments. He said he didn’t see it.”
In another match played at the Fairgreen in Ennis he was again the target of anti-Traveller abuse, which he says was not dealt with by the official in charge. “I was literally on the pitch about five minutes. I got the same type of comment again,‘Go away you f**king knacker’. I reacted, I didn’t hit anyone but I started shouting and stuff. The referee came over and said ‘calm down’. I said ‘no, I won’t, it’s hard to calm down when I’m getting racist comments thrown at me constantly’. He said what did he say, and I said, ‘he called me a knacker’. He said, ‘Take a deep breath, take 10 seconds and pretend it never happened, pretend you never heard it’.”
Michael said he opted to leave the field himself that day. “I walked off the pitch myself, I didn’t even get carded or anything. I just walked off and that was the last game I went to.”
He said that he is aware that in a competitive situation, harsh words are sometimes spoken, but that when a person’s background is brought into it, things have gone too far. “There’s always going to be a few words in a match, and what happens on the pitch stays on the pitch, but passing those comments is going a little bit too far.”
Michael, his brothers and his cousin were less likely to be awarded frees than other players, he believes, while he says racist comments directed at people on the basis of their skin colour wouldn’t be tolerated, but that anti-Traveller statements are tacitly accepted. “If a referee knew of a black person getting racist comments, there’d be a sending off. When it’s us they don’t want to believe it, they’re only telling us to forget about it, pretend you never heard about it. They’re not even saying about it in their reports. It makes you not want to play when you’re getting that abuse every week.”
At one stage, the Sporting Ennistymon B side they played for were close to walking off the field, due to one incident, but with the club potentially facing a heavy fine if a fixture was not fulfilled,the game was completed.
He says the abuse was becoming more common, as the word got around among other clubs, leading to his decision to leave the game. “There’s no point in keeping going back and getting abused and getting sent off every week. You’re costing the club money. You go out to play soccer for fun, a bit of craic, not to get snide comments. They know what they’re doing, they know by passing that comment they’ll get you to react.”
One of the four players received a long suspension earlier this season, for an unrelated offence, when he was sent off following a verbal altercation with a referee.
Keith Flynn had been over the club’s B team, which the four were playing on, but has left the role quite recently.
Having brought the four players through from underage to adult level, he is angry and disappointed that they have left the game in such circumstances. However, he says he understands their position. “There’s only so much of it you can take,” he told The Clare Champion.
He criticised the Clare League, saying they haven’t tackled the issue, while he also feels Sporting Ennistymon should have brought it further.
On one day last year both Sporting Ennistymon A and B sides were playing matches on the same day at the same venue, and during an altercation involving the A side, one opposing player made a comment, the like of which have become common this year. “People went in to break up a melee and one of the players from the other club said, ‘Ye’re only a shower of fucking Travellers’ to me. I wanted the referee to put that into his report. He didn’t put it into his report.
“We reported it to the Clare League and they made out to us that nothing could be done about it because it wasn’t in the official’s report. The official heard it because he was standing closer to him than I was,” says Keith.
None of the four were on the pitch at that time, but they were nearby, preparing to play for the B team.
Eddie Crowe is still involved with the B team and is also treasurer of the club.
He said that it rankles that even after matters being brought to the attention of officials, the situation was not dealt with properly.
“If something like this is driving people away from sport, it’s incumbent on all involved to not let it happen, whether it’s the referees, the team management, or the organisers of the league.”