By Liam Mackey
Perhaps the worst thing to have to observe about the online racist abuse which was directed at Cyrus Christie after he scored an own goal in Ireland’s 5-1 play-off defeat to Denmark, is that not only was it nothing new to him.
It was, he says, “almost normal”.
At the time, he issued a statement hitting back at the tweets, one of which talked of lynching the 25-year-old. The abuse was referred by the FAI to the Gardaí and condemned by the Professional Footballers Association of Ireland and Show Racism The Red Card, as well as team-mates like James McClean and others in the game.
Speaking at the Irish training camp in Turkey this week ahead of tonight’s friendly in Antalya, the newly crowned FAI Young Player of the Year admitted he’d encountered racism which was “10 times worse” both before and during his football career, including on previous occasions when playing for his country.
“I actually didn’t know too much about it until I got told and then I saw it because I didn’t really go on my social media,” he said, referring to the immediate aftermath of the Danish game.
“The police were on but whether something will get done or not, I don’t know. That’s just the way it is. A lot of the time when stuff like this happens, nothing really gets done. A lot of these people are hiding behind different profiles. I’ve had a lot worse growing up, when I was in school, so for me it was water off a duck’s back. If that’s what they want to resort to, they can, it’s sticks and stones at the end of the day. I’m not going to be too hurt by it.”
Christie’s experience in England is that racism in football has largely migrated online from the grounds.
“You don’t really hear it on the terraces. You get the odd person but it’s more social media, that’s where they get brave. They wouldn’t say it to your face. When they’re hiding amongst the crowd, that’s when they get brave. I’ve had a lot worse growing up from where I’ve come from and many more dangerous situations in my time. It was nothing to me.
“I was upset about the manner of the defeat against Denmark, losing the way we did after starting so well. Obviously people are going to be hurt and disappointed. We were hurting in the dressing room just as much as the fans but for them to resort to that is a low blow.
“It’s one of those, you don’t speak out because nothing does happen. But something does need to be done about it because a lot of the young lads coming up, they might not have experienced certain situations that maybe I’ve been in and won’t know how to deal with it.
“I think that if you spoke to a lot of the black lads who have played, they have come across it. They have had racial comments come their way. But not a lot has been done about it and you feel it’s almost normal. I have experienced it a lot and it is kind of normal for me. And you kind of think it’s going away from that but then it comes back.
“I’m not sure how long it will take to be eradicated from the game but, as we have said, a lot more needs to be done. The FA can do more. I think Twitter and social media as well can do more. But, at the end of the day, nothing much does get done. Look at Mason Holgate. They go through his tweets from the age of 13 and 14 and they bring it up and he gets disciplined quicker. So then (in terms of) the whole racism thing, they set a precedent there. And I think that’s why a lot of people don’t speak about it.”
(Liverpool’s Roberto Firmino was cleared of the allegation he had racially abused Holgate in the Merseyside derby in January, although the FA accepted that the Everton player had acted without malice. However, the 21-year-old Holgate was warned by the FA after it emerged that he had used homophobic language in tweets he’d posted as a 15- and 16-year-old youth player at Barnsley).
Christie’s comments come against the background of reports of legal action being taken by former Chelsea youth players over allegations of racism at the club in the 80s and 90s. Asked if he feels clubs in England have moved on from then, Christie said: “I cannot really comment on every club. The clubs that I have been at, I’ve not really witnessed it. Coming through at Coventry City, it was mainly black lads. The coaches were fine and really good with all of us. We never experienced any of it there apart from one game when we played away.
“A massive fight kicked off because someone had been called the ‘N’ word and that was from one of the other lad’s parents. Other than that I did not experience it from any of the coaches at Coventry. They were all fantastic and the people at Coventry were fantastic. It used to be bad, it changed and we have moved on from that.”
The Fulham full-back, who was such an impressive deputy in the green shirt in the absence of the injured Seamus Coleman, was also keen to stress playing for his country has brought him far more joy than grief.
“I just want to concentrate on my football,” he said. “I come away with Ireland, I’m always happy and proud to represent my country and my family is always happy and proud and feel a massive part of it.
“From day one I have felt welcome. I cannot hold the whole country to certain people’s beliefs, you cannot judge everyone by that same cover. I’ll move on from it. It’s gone now, it’s in the past.”