‘We’re not that sort of club’: Yeovil in shock over racism claims | Football
Len Harrison, resplendent in a green and yellow Yeovil Town fleece and woolly hat, summed up his impression of the mood in the Somerset town: horrible. “We’re not that sort of football club,” said Harrison, who was born in Yeovil and moved back after some years away so he could live near the ground, Huish Park.
He attends every game, home and away. “I’m disgusted by what happened and fear for the impact on the club and the town. It feels horrible.”
Yeovil’s FA Cup qualifying round tie at Haringey Borough in north London on Saturday was abandoned in the 64th minute after home players were allegedly racially abused by travelling supporters. It is thought to be the first time a match at such a senior level has been abandoned in such circumstances. The FA has ordered the tie to be replayed on 29 October.
Harrison, who was at the game, said he did not hear racist abuse and he still hopes it may be some sort of terrible misunderstanding. “I follow Yeovil all over the country,” he said. “It has been getting a bit hairy scary at games sometimes but racism is not acceptable. If anyone is found guilty they should be banned from football for life.”
He backed the players for coming off the pitch. “They did the right thing. I just hope we get to replay the game. It’s a tiny, tiny minority of people who let everyone else down.”
Gordon Spearing, 70, has been supporting Yeovil all his life and goes to all the home games. He had hoped Yeovil were embarking on another great run in the FA Cup, a competition they have graced over the years. Now it doesn’t feel quite as important.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen to us. Yeovil is a family club. Everyone knows everybody else,” said Spearing. “I can’t believe this is happening to us.”
“It’s a great shame,” said Pauline Lock, a town councillor and another loyal Yeovil Town fan. “Yeovil is a great football club. We can only hope there are no really long-term repercussions for the football club because a couple of people may or may not have said something inappropriate.”
The abandonment came five days after England’s Euro 2020 qualifier in Bulgaria was marred by racist chanting by some home supporters. The Yeovil incident is a vivid reminder, if any were needed, that racism remains a live issue in the UK. The England players Raheem Sterling and Tyrone Mings both publicly backed the decision by the Haringey and Yeovil players to walk off.
Speaking on the pitch after the game was called off, the Yeovil manager, Darren Sarll, explained why his players had supported the Haringey players when they made it clear they did not wish to play on.
“No one should feel discriminated against when they come to play football,” he said. “The players and I decided we would make a stand together rather than apart and make that moment a bit stronger.”
In Yeovil many people also supported the players. “There seems to have been some sort of solidarity. That’s something,” said Dave Jones, a shop worker and “part-time” Yeovil fan. “Maybe some good will come out of it.”
But on Monday morning the mood around the club was sombre. A couple of players trotted out on to the artificial training pitch and went through stretching exercises. The sign on the club shop read “Open” but the door was locked. The club said in a statement that it would not comment further on the events of the weekend until the investigations were complete.
Almost 95% of Somerset’s population class themselves as white British, according to official figures. In recent years thousands of Polish people have moved into the county, and they have not always been given a warm welcome.
John Clark, a Liberal Democrat councillor who represents the Yeovil Summerlands ward and has been a season ticket holder at Yeovil for 25 years, said he believed the club had worked hard to tackle racism. “I’m very surprised. It’s a good club – a friendly sort of place,” he said.
Clark said he thought tension over Brexit could be having an impact. “I think you can detect a general deterioration in racist behaviour with Brexit nationally. Yeovil is no different to anywhere else.”
On Monday two men aged 23 and 26 were arrested, one in Yeovil and the other in Chard, Somerset, on suspicion of racially aggravated common assault.