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Development Squad

Gillela’s Story: Racism in Football


AFC Bournemouth AFC Bournemouth

Despite it being an incredibly prevalent topic around the world at the moment, the issue of racism still remains both in and out of sport.

As a young South Asian footballer, under-21s captain, Dinesh Gillela, knows all too well the effects it can have within the game and the problems that still exist today.

In an honest interview with afcb.co.uk, he explained in his own words the journey he’s been on, the experiences he’s endured and the steps that need to be taken to eradicate such discrimination from football.

I’ve always endured racism during my childhood and throughout my playing career so far. It started when I was very young, even before the age of ten – I was maybe eight or nine.

It would mainly come from opposition players and even from their parents on the sidelines. They would just call me names and make jokes about me, so when I was playing I just brushed it aside and took it at face value.

Obviously, when I would go home afterwards, I would speak to my dad about it. He reacted to it a couple of times, but generally we would just have conversations on the way home and talk about why people would say those things.

I never really let it get to me, I’ve always been thick-skinned in that sense and won’t let it affect me, so I feel like I’ve managed to endure it but equally there are many players who can’t endure it or don’t have the same mentality.

I remember there was an incident when I was a first-year scholar and one of my teammates, Nnamdi Ofoborh, got racially abused and I could understand because I’d experienced it before. I think it might’ve been his first time experiencing it, so I could put my arm round him and support him with that side of things.

I feel like there needs to be help and there needs to be education for people to learn about things like this. There has to be more help for young players, and more young Asian players, through the system.

There’s a man from the PFA called Riz Rehman and he’s started a campaign which helps young Asian footballers stay in contact with each other, so it’s like a mentoring scheme. He’s got me in contact with Danny Batth and I’m going to have regular conversations with him about how to develop my football and how to develop what happens off the pitch. Campaigns like these are really important. 

There aren’t as many South Asian footballers, so I feel that it’s good for us to stay in contact with each other and help each other through the certain situations that we come across. I remember having a few conversations with some young footballers about injuries because I had a couple of bad injuries as well, so I can really share my experiences across all aspects of the game.

I think it means a lot for them to know that I’m taking the time out of my day to help them. I’m helping them because I want to help them and I’m not just doing it for the sake of it. I actually care for them and I want to see other South Asians doing well.

It was disappointing to see Greg Clarke’s comments earlier this week, but he’s come out, said it’s unacceptable and he’s stepped down. I feel like when people that are in his position have so much power and they’re still making the same mistakes that we’re trying to eradicate from the game, it doesn’t send out a good sign.

However, the next couple of weeks or months can be decisive in how we go ahead and how the FA want to move forward with the issue of racism. It could really be a step in the right direction.

I still can’t believe that it’s 2020 and we’re still having these conversations about racism, but we are and that’s the world we live in. Every day should be an opportunity to raise more awareness until the world becomes a fair place to live in because the more pressure that the media and influential people can put on the issue, the more benefits it has.

If more people keep talking about it and there’s still a lot of pressure on it then I think there can be a change made. We saw with the Black Lives Matter movement how impactful it is and how much of a change it made in a matter of weeks, so if that pressure is still on it, we’re taking it in the right direction.

It is important for schools and academies to teach young kids about equality and racism. The earlier they can gain knowledge on the subject, the better it will be for future generations because we know it’s going to take time. We need to keep making sure that people now still try and change their outlooks and views.

For me, in the future, I’d love to go on to represent my country. Obviously, in my heart, India would be a great opportunity because of my parents and my roots, but also I grew up in England and was born in England, so I have a great connection here too. If the opportunity ever came up to represent them in the future, it would be a great decision to have to make.

That’s my goal, and to represent my country would be amazing, but right now it’s all about trying to keep my head in the right place. I need to keep working hard, keep my feet on the ground and I want to try and push in the under-21s and break into the first team.

For more information on how you can help eradicate the issue of racism in football, click here.

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