.....and if you're not famous?
If you think the John Terry and Anton Ferdinand affair is dragging on a bit, spare a thought for Trevor Benjamin. On 25 September 2010 Benjamin was called “a black fucking cunt” by an opposition player while playing for Morpeth Town against Darlington Railway Athletic and has only found out the outcome of his complaint to the local FA in November 2011.
Benjamin immediately reported the comment to the Northumberland FA and was said to be “visibly shaking” after the incident according to a witness report. The witness report, that was also provided to the Northumberland FA, also claims that the Darlington RA manager confirmed after the match that the player involved had admitted making the comment to his team-mates and that “there is no place in the game for that”.
The FA hearing was held “in October 2010” according to Benjamin and the grievance was heard by both the Northumberland and Durham FA; the former as the association to which Morpeth are affiliated and the later who Darlington RA report to. Those who heard the comment gave evidence, which included Emma Benjamin, the Morpeth physio who also said that young children heard the racist words, and Laurence Appleby, the club secretary and assistant manager.
Appleby was left believing that the player had been found guilty by the end of the hearing but “no decision was made on the day. I thought they [the Northumberland FA] had to leave it for the Durham FA to make the decision”. The Durham FA took action but then failed to communicate this back to Benjamin or to Morpeth Town.
On 3 November 2011, Benjamin was quoted in The Sun newspaper as “still not sure what the outcome was” and saying it had all been a “nightmare”. Meanwhile, Appleby was still trying to find out what the outcome was. He rang the Northumberland FA and was told that they had received an apology letter from the Darlington RA player but had not been notified of a decision by their counterparts at Durham.
So Appleby rang the Durham FA. He claims they told him that because of the story in The Sun “they weren’t prepared to discuss” the outcome and that either he or Benjamin “should write or email in [to the Durham FA] with their connection to the hearing”.
After the story appeared in The Sun, Benjamin received a telephone call from The FA who advised of the decision made by the Durham FA. Benjamin, who works for Show Racism the Red Card, tells me that the anti-racism charity “is an organisation were keen to find out what happened”. Had he not been a known name, having played for Leicester City in the Premier League, or worked for the charity, or had coverage in The Sun then he might still be waiting for acknowledgement that his grievance had been fully addressed. And he has still only heard verbally from The FA; there has been no written communication regarding the outcome.
While he may now be happy that “the communication issues” have been resolved, Benjamin is still “disappointed with the time it took”. There’s also disappointment at the punishment the Durham FA handed out to the Darlington RA player: “a £50 fine and a four match suspension”.
The guilty player, who is still registered with the Darlington club, “needs to know the after-effects that behaviour has on people; those who use racist comments should be sent on courses to understand the impact,” according to Benjamin. This is something that could have been discussed with The FA had the outcome of the hearing been communicated earlier. His current work with Show Racism the Red Card “gives kids an understanding of the impact of racism” and as far back as 2004 he told the Kick It Out website that “People must learn to judge people on who they are and how they treat you rather than the colour of your skin”.
I asked Benjamin if it is important that those reporting discriminatory comments made against them should receive notification of any outcome to show that action is taken and to encourage people not to suffer in silence. Benjamin replied: “People should be able to air their grievances and have their say, and it should be easy for them to do; we can’t have a situation where people can’t speak out and report what’s happened to them. Racism still goes on and we’re trying to get rid of it”.
In order to completely rid English football of racism, a stain that has been greatly reduced from our national game, it is important that resolutions are transparent. While there shouldn’t be a media witch hunt, it is absolutely vital that there is no silence when it comes to reporting such issues. The FA acted swiftly when Benjamin’s story was reported in a newspaper, yet why was communication only forthcoming a year after the incident? In other workplaces, such complaints would be finalised with an official outcome in writing – something that Benjamin is still to receive.
The FA rule 20 (a) states that “each Affiliated Association shall be responsible for ensuring that its players refrain from racist conduct or language whilst attending at or taking part in a Match in which it is involved, whether at its own ground or elsewhere” while the Durham FA once announced on their website that they were “pleased to be lending support to Kick It Out’s One Game, One Community weeks of action”. They acknowledged that they “have a duty to players, coaches, parents and volunteers at all levels of the game to do all we can to ensure football is a discrimination free zone”. Yet silence could result in players believing that nothing will happen if racist behaviour were to be reported through the official channels.
The FA website clearly states their aim to “eradicate racism in football by ensuring no barriers exist to anyone”. Yet barriers still exist that could prevent people speaking out and reporting incidents; in this case the barrier was a lack of involvement with a player after an outcome was decided, and the fault for this lies with the affiliated associations. The FA policy for resolving any grievance is the same as in any other workplace: the person raising the grievance should be notified that an investigation has been completed and the case has been resolved.
Show Racism the Red Card chief executive Ged Grebby said: “I can’t believe that this is proper protocol [to not communicate an outcome to players]. This wouldn’t happen in any other workplace and we will also be speaking to The FA about this. One of the outcomes [of hearings] should be that people don’t do this again but if decisions aren’t released then there’s no deterrent.”
Could it be that greater governance is required over affiliated associations in order to prevent a communication breakdown such as that which occurred between the Durham FA and Trevor Benjamin? There should be consistency when The FA or one of their affiliated associations investigate discriminatory behaviour and any subsequent hearings. Football cannot allow a situation where anybody feels that they are unable to speak out, and for those players who aren’t mentioned in national newspapers, there’s a worry that silence exists.
If any of the parties mentioned in this article would like to add a viewpoint, we are more than keen to hear from you. Please select ‘contact’ from the top of this page.