Haringey v Yeovil shows non-league has a racism problem

FOR YEARS, people have been selling non-league football as a civilised world, “real football for real people”, supported by the theory that this level of the game is one big happy family, a community motivated by the enjoyment of football in a malice-free environment.

Just days after England’s players were subjected to racist comments and chanting in Bulgaria, Haringey Borough’s football team walked-off the pitch after racism allegedly reared its ugly head once more. Two men in the Yeovil area were arrested the following day on suspicion of racism.

Of course, racism at any game damages reputations and hurts people, but for non-league it is a blow in a different way. It demonstrates that not even a match played in front of a homely, small crowd, where people may have parted with £ 10 to watch a FA Cup tie, is immune from anti-social and criminal behaviour.

Yeovil have only just returned to the non-league fold, but there can be no excuse for what happened. They have been circulating a world where smart-arse jibes can get lost in bigger crowds, but in the more communal atmosphere of non-league, every comment can be heard and attributed. It should have been relatively easy to pinpoint the culprits. In non-league grounds, stewards and club officials are invariably (and understandably) reluctant to confront bad language from the terraces. Surely, it should not be left to a referee to deal with it?

CNN International’s Ben Morse asked if Haringey’s walk-off represented a watershed moment for the game in England. He spoke to journalist Darren Lewis, who said: “We’ve got to a stage where black players can no longer leave it to the authorities.”

One Yeovil fan, speaking in a Somerset newspaper, believed the incident was not as clear-cut as reported: “Suggestion in the away end is that this kicked off after the penalty was awarded when the goalkeeper sprayed fans with a water bottle. Fans stood next to the flashpoint are adamant there was no racist abuse.”

However, Cameroonian goalkeeper Douglas Pajetat said he was abused, spat at and had bottles thrown at him by Yeovil fans. Defender Coby Rowe had insults thrown at him all through the game. “The referee couldn’t guarantee the safety of the players,” said Haringey manager Tom Loizou.

The Kick it Out charity, which seems closely associated with Haringey Borough and is headquartered close by, noted that in 2018-19 there were over 400 reports of racism across professional and grassroots football.

It’s not the first time that Haringey Borough have been involved in a controversial incident. At a FA Cup tie two years ago, they claimed opposition fans racially abused the wife of one of the Heybridge party.

Club chairman Aki Achillea told the Enfield Independent: “What worries me is that we are potentially going to be targeted in the future because we not going to escape those who say we walked off because we were losing.”

Ironically, at De Montfort University in Leicester two weeks ago, John Barnes highlighted the “walk-off” protest as something that could be very contentious if the victimised team was losing when they left the field.

This sorry tale is a reminder that English football has to get its own house in order. Greg Clarke, Chairman of the FA, told the Times: “We shouldn’t take the moral high ground. We should join a movement to drive racism out of our game and have zero tolerance for it.”

Apparently, the game is to be replayed. It will be interesting to see how the case proceeds and also if the non-league community comes out in force to support Haringey.



Photo: PA

The Non-League 100: Yeovil Town 1948-49 – Stock’s giant-killers

yeovilFOR YEARS, Yeovil Town were considered to be one of the top clubs outside of the Football League. With their well-known stadium, Huish – complete with famous slope, and a promising catchment area, they were widely recognised as a League club-in-waiting.

This was largely due to the 1948-49 season, in which Yeovil beat Sunderland in the FA Cup. At the time, the north-easterners were among the top sides in the country and had spent more money than anyone on their team – not for nothing were Sunderland were known as the “Bank of England club”. They included the great Len Shackleton in their ranks.

Yeovil Town’s fortunes changed with the appointment of Alec Stock as player-manager in 1946. An average player, who made just 30 appearances for Queens Park Rangers before the second world war, Stock had the air of a gentleman and was left with a limp after serving in the forces. He was also a progressive coach who often claimed that he invented 4-4-2.

Yeovil finished fourth and eighth in the Southern League their first two post-war seasons. In 1948-49, Stock signed a cluster of new players, most of whom had Football League experience.

Right half Bob Keeton was signed from Torquay United. He was one of the few Yeovil players who didn’t live in the town. Keeton was a commercial traveller, which meant he was always on the road. Centre-half Les Blizzard joined from Bournemouth, but he would go on to make his name with Orient, making well over 200 appearances for the London club. Right winger Billy Hamilton, a Scot, had started out with Hearts before playing for Chester.

Centre forward Eric Bryant, a Brummie, was signed from Mansfield, while inside forward Ray Wright, a Yorkshireman, was secured from Exeter City. On the wing, Jack Hargreaves brought the experience of playing for Leeds United, Bristol City and Reading.

These players joined a squad that had plenty of savvy – Arthur Hickman, a right back, was an excellent dead-ball kicker, Ralph Davis, a glove maker, was a fast full back and was known as “the rabbit”. Nick Collins, Stock’s preferred left half, was a former Crystal Palace player.

Stan Hall was Yeovil’s regular goalkeeper, but he would miss the club’s finest hour. And that came in the FA Cup. Yeovil beat Lovell’s Athletic before reaching the first round against Romford. They won 4-0, the same scoreline when Yeovil disposed of Weymouth in front of 12,000 people. “It’s our year,” quipped Stock as he prepared for a third round tie with Bury.

Yeovil did it again, winning 3-1, setting up a real plum tie with Sunderland. They could have sold-out Huish three times over, but only 17,000 could see the game: “Somerset became the centre of the football world,” said the newsreel. Playing fast, open football, Yeovil took the lead through Stock after 28 minutes, but a mistake by stand-in keeper Dickie Dyke, who had stepped in when Hall was injured in the days leading up to the tie, allowed Jackie Robinson to equalise after 62 minutes. As fog swirled around the ground, extra time was needed (no replays) and Eric Bryant became the hero by scoring the winner for Yeovil.

Yeovil captured the imagination of the British public, but the FA Cup run ended in the next round, Manchester United beating them 8-0 at Maine Road. They had made their mark, however, and they’re still talking about Alec Stock and his enterprising team in Somerset!

Non-leaguers in waiting?

NOBODY will thank you for saying it, but there a number of current Football League clubs that are really non-league clubs just visiting. Likewise, there is a growing band of non-leaguers that may eventually go back to the League – someday.

Today, scrambling near the bottom of the table are Yeovil Town and York City. While York have had a chequered recent history, they certainly look like a non-league club in many ways – although if they move to a new ground, that could make for a more sustainable Football League outfit.

Yeovil Town, however, are a local institution that you thought would make a long-term career out of the Football League. For years, they were one of those clubs you felt were too big and too clever to be outside the 92 for ever. Football students will tell you that, as a non-league club, Yeovil had that famous Sunderland FA Cup giant-killing in their back pocket to underline their credentials. They also had a big catchment area, so if they did get up, they would enjoy good gates – that was the theory.

But Yeovil seem to be on a downward spiral at present. They finished bottom of League One last season and they’re one off the foot of League Two – they are in the drop zone. And they have just sacked manager Paul Sturrock. This is Yeovil’s 13th League campaign, but they have suffered two relegations since arriving in the Championship in 2013-14. What has gone wrong?

Their chairman, John Fry, told the BBC a few weeks ago that climbing into the Championship cost the club dearly. It’s a message to clubs that find themselves promoted out of their depth. Defeat follows defeat and it becomes habit-forming. Yeovil, to quote Fry, have to turn it around or they will be going into the National League. After years trying to move up from non-league that would be heartbreaking for Glovers’ fans.

Dagenham & Redbridge have been written off a few times in their relatively short Football League career. When they won promotion from the Conference, in 2007, not many people felt they would last a second campaign, but they also enjoyed a year in League One.  With London over-clubbed, Dagenham are too close for comfort to West Ham and Leyton Orient and their attendances barely get to 2,000 (current av. 1,800).

Barnet have had something of a yo-yo existence with the Football League – promotion in 2015 was their third to the League. Their old ground, Underhill, was always a hindrance for them, but the Hive has given them a new lease of life. They are now averaging 2,300 at their new ground.

Barnet’s Hertfordshire cousins, Stevenage, may have Teddy Sheringham as they boss, but the former England man is having a tough debut year in charge at the Lamex Stadium. It has always been a question of how long Stevenage can sustain League football on the gates they have, but this is a club that just 20 years ago was playing local derbies with the likes of Hitchin and St.Albans.

Morecambe, when they won promotion to the Football League, were scarcely well supported. Crowds at their functional stadium are just 1,600 at the moment, that’s non-league level and a thousand below their 2008 level.  Having visited Crawley recently, I felt the club was also very much in a non-league mode, the main difference being the enhanced security requirements.

AFC Wimbledon, for all the emotion surrounding their history and divorce from the MK Dons, are a club that was playing at a very low non-league level just a few years ago. They are getting 4,000 through the gate and they have big ambitions of a new ground, boosted by their links with Chelsea. You have to assume they will continue to survive in the Football League.

I am not so sure about Accrington Stanley, although we all love that name. Having visited them recently, I sensed that they are really in a non-league club punching above their weight. Good for them, but with gates of 1,500 it is really unsustainable.

In League One, there’s a couple of clubs who you feel may find their wings start to drip a little as they fly higher. Fleetwood Town, with an excellent ground and set-up, and Burton Albion, may fall into this category. I hope not, because I have visited both and got a good feeling from my trip.

Conversely, there are some National League clubs that are just biding their time to get back: Cheltenham, Grimsby, Wrexham, Lincoln City and Tranmere will all be hoping that their exile from the Football League is temporary.

Of course, the rise of the minnows is nothing but a tribute to the clubs that manage to outreach their potential. We are seeing a lot of this at the moment, and it is good for the game, but there’s also a message for those that live beyond their means, either by design or by accident. Caution should be the watchword.

I fear for Yeovil and in the longer-term, Dagenham, Morecambe and Accrington. But the National League, despite its trapdoor effect, does provide a way back, too. The boundaries between League Two and National League seem to be blurring at a rapid pace.

  10 years ago 20 years ago 30 years ago
Accrington Stanley Conference National -1st Northern Premier League Premier – 7th NW Counties Division One – 11th
Barnet League Two – 18th League Three – 9th Alliance Premier – 14th
Burton Albion Conference National  – 9th Southern League Premier – 16th Northern Premier League – 5th
Crawley Town Conference National – 12th Southern League Premier – 9th Southern League Premier –  6th
Dagenham & Redbridge Conference National – 10th Conference – 22nd n/a
Fleetwood Northern Premier League One – 2nd Northern Premier League One – 20th NW Counties League One – 5th
Morecambe Conference National – 5th Conference – 9th Northern Premier League – 3rd
Stevenage Conference National  – 6th Conference – 1st Isthmian Division 2 North – 1st
Wimbledon Isthmian Premier – 4th n/a n/a
Yeovil Town League One- 15th Isthmian Premier – 4th Isthmian Premier – 2nd