Keeping It Out: Viv Anderson, Discrimination, and Journey to Justice

 As a Patron of Journey to Justice (JtoJ), I am delighted to make this contribution to the ‘Journey to Justice’ website, which provides some more context to the exhibition taking place in Nottingham. This exhibition is one small, but important, part of what JtoJ is all about. It provides us with the opportunity to learn about each other, by learning with each other and to understand the history of struggles for equality of treatment and for justice to be seen and felt. By sharing information and opening up our minds, we achieve greater understanding and awareness about the historical context of prejudice. We can also perceive how the contemporary world can open up the possibility of engaging in constructive debate on the topic of inclusion.

Image credit: Wikipedia

Image credit: Wikipedia

This core part of the exhibition, which focuses on the US Civil Rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s, has already demonstrated, through its appearances around England, its effectiveness to help educate the current and future generations of society to create a more harmonious environment in which people from all backgrounds can thrive by sharing knowledge and experiences. Before its appearance in Nottingham, the JtoJ exhibition popped up at Morley College in London and had a launch event in January. Morley is memorialised in the Nottingham exhibition with a fabulous 3D statue, created by BACKLIT, the present name of Morley’s building in Nottingham. This goes to show JtoJ's interconnectivity.

Over the past six decades, I have experienced at first hand the hurt and damage inflicted on people as a consequence of prejudice, hatred and discrimination. Along with many others seeking to end inequalities and injustices, I have strived to challenge such acts, where they have occurred and used best endeavours to raise awareness of prejudice across a broad spectrum of society, from the local and national governmental level, to what happens on the football pitch. 

As the founder and chair of Kick It Out, football’s equality and inclusion organisation, I understand how powerful sport, in particular football, can be as a tool for social cohesion. In 1993, the Commission for Racial Equality alongside the Professional Footballers Association (PFA) launched the ‘Let’s Kick Racism Out Of Football’ campaign. Four successful years later, the organisation broadened its remit to what it is today – tackling all forms of discrimination in football.

When I look back to the inception of Kick It Out, it was at a time when football was attempting to drag itself back from the dark ages of football. Racism was rife within the game. Cult figures and pioneers such as Laurie Cunningham, Cyril Regis and John Barnes suffered abhorrent abuse based on the pigmentation of their skin. This attitude was commonplace within the terraces. Another pioneer of his time was local lad Viv Anderson. The former Nottingham Forest defender scaled the heights during his splendid career – becoming the first black player to play a full international for England. With a number of rising black talents in the game, Viv became a star, playing his role in one of the most illustrious teams in European football history. He paved the way for future black stars to proudly wear their country’s colours. The current cohort of England internationals regularly includes several players from African or African Caribbean heritage – which is testament to not only Viv, but his fellow black-professionals who followed in his footsteps.

Moving back to my own experience of football at that time, I felt it was impossible to attend a football match for fear of hearing obnoxious unacceptable abuse aimed at anyone who wasn’t white on the field, or if the crowd turned violent, on fans of colour like myself.

There are many incidents, played back in time, which bring to light some the behaviours and mind-sets of a society which was not open and tolerant. The 1991 Football (Offences) Act made racist chanting at football matches unlawful; but more needed to be done to educate the sport on why racism and all forms of discrimination are unacceptable.

Nowadays, we have a more tolerant society, one which is respectful of cultures. This is not always the case and the amount of hate crimes and hate related incidents prevalent today put at risk all the good work done by so many people over the years for race equality and racial justice. Clearly, we have not fully overcome the challenges of racism and prejudice in football and wider society.

At Kick It Out, we work assiduously with other like-minded individuals and organisations to challenge all forms of discrimination and exclusion within the game, be it at grassroots level or at the upper echelons of the sport. Our broad remit challenging discrimination means we now counter all forms of hate in football. From sexism and homophobia, to disability and religious discrimination, this season we are urging all of football to make sure that hate is rejected and deterred throughout the sport. Our ‘Call Full Time on Hate’ initiative has the collective support of the football authorities and clubs from across the country as they reject hate from their community. Our mission is to contribute, through education and awareness raising projects to change hearts and minds and to build respect for people of all backgrounds. Kick it Out’s work is complementary to that of JtoJ and we applaud all those who are active in the struggles to bring about a better understanding of the journey we are all on to achieve equality, justice and inclusion for people of all backgrounds.

If you would like to know more about the work we do at Kick It Out, visit our website – or contact us via email