Over the weekend the headlines surrounding Hartlepool United have not been about the football but about the behaviour of a small minority of fans who tarnished the good name of the Club.
In the aftermath of racial abuse hurled at Dover Athletic striker Inih Effiong, the Club has reacted strongly and has delivered a promise to bring those guilty of racial discrimination to justice.
Pools midfielder Gus Mafuta was one of those in the middle of events as they unfolded at The Vic on Saturday and was clearly affected by what he saw and heard from a section of the home crowd.
Now he has spoken honestly about how the situation made him feel and what can be done to try and tackle the problem of racism and kick it out of the game we love.
How difficult is it for you to put in to words what happened on Saturday and what you and other players involved went through?
GM: I don’t think there are any words, to be honest. It’s the worst I have seen and the worst game of football I have experienced since I started playing the game. Everything about the whole day was wrong, I think. The result didn’t matter to me after what had happened in the first half. Even if we had gone on to win the game, I would still say that the result was secondary to what happened on Saturday and there’s just no place for it.
Can you tell you us about the incident through your eyes and how it affected you?
GM: It affected me deeply and for the rest of the day and rest of my weekend. Obviously, after the game I spoke to my mam and dad, and I spoke to my girlfriend and sort of had to explain to them what had happened in full detail. It was one of those moments where I couldn’t believe the words that I was saying to them in 2019. I have had to explain to my parents that the opposition players were racially abused by a small minority of home fans right in front of my eyes. It was hard to watch and it was hard to take.
Obviously you felt so strongly that you went across to help deal with the situation yourself?
GM: Yeah, well I think there was all sorts of rubbish being spouted in newspapers about me trying to jump over the barriers in to the fans, which didn’t happen. Obviously, this incident happened in front of me, I saw it and went over to tell the guy to leave the stadium. I don’t know if he was picked up but I am sure the Chairman and Mark Maguire are doing all they can to catch the culprits, because there was more than one. I don’t think a lot of people know the full events and there are those making plenty of comments without knowing the full story. I know for a fact that it’s unfair to blame the other 3000-plus fans who were there on the day but you just can’t believe it can happen and I think it’s more a problem with society. Football has to try and sort it out but the punishments that are dished out are not good enough, if I am being totally honest. I think the Chairman and Mark Maguire can only do what they can do and the police can only do what they can do – but if they push for the maximum punishment then you can’t ask any more than that.
Can you try and describe how that kind of abuse makes black people feel and what it means for yourself, Inih Effiong, Ricky Modeste and everyone else affected?
GM: It’s wrong. I think you can tell from my reaction. It wasn’t abuse directed towards me but it kind of was, if you understand what I am saying? I am black, Inih Effiong is black and he is getting called a black so and so, and having gestures made towards him. If you’re attacking him then you’re basically attacking me, and it’s just not right. The worst thing to come out of the weekend was a message Peter Kioso got from a guy who told him that he’d taken his six-year-old son to the game and he had been asking his dad what happened. How do you explain that to a six-year-old? One day I would like to have kids of my own – what if they had been at the game on Saturday? What if they had seen me reacting the way I was reacting because they would have wanted to ask questions? What would I say to explain that? I just don’t think it’s right. It’s disgusting really and it’s not a nice feeling. It makes you feel small and lots of other things, it’s ignorant and it’s a problem the society has.
Was there any comfort for you in the way that the rest the ground reacted in support when the message of condemnation was read out at the start of the second half?
GM: Yes and no. Let me be brutally honest, once it happens I don’t think anything can comfort you within that moment. It was still fresh. Even at 10pm when I was sat watching Match of the Day it was still fresh and I don’t think you can do much to comfort in the aftermath of what happened on the day. It’s still fresh in my mind now but I know it was a small minority of fans and I am pretty sure they are going to be dealt with.
Are there any doubts for you about whether you can continue to play for Hartlepool United?
GM: No. I know the supporters here and we have had a message from one of them at the training ground this morning, which I am very thankful for. I think what people have to understand is, when something like that happens from within your own support, you can’t blame anyone for questioning whether they can pull the shirt on again. I’m not saying it’s the case but if me or Gime or Peter or Nicke or Niko or whoever had that initial thought, you can’t blame them. It’s not affected my desire to play for Hartlepool but it is horrible see and hear that from a small minority of home fans.
The Club’s response has been swift and now the focus is on making sure the perpetrators are brought to justice but the issue does need tackling across the sport and in society doesn’t it?
GM: Yeah, definitely. I think the reaction from the Club has been good and we have the full support of the Club which I am thankful for. I have spoken to the Chairman already and he’s told me that is going to do everything in his power to catch the people responsible and ensure they are given the maximum punishment. It needs to be tackled though because this can’t keep happening. It’s hard because if a so-called racist comes in to the ground you’re not going to know immediately that he’s a racist. Something has to be done though, and I think the punishments need to be more severe because right now I don’t think they’re enough. You don’t want to see this in football, a game we all love and a game that kids love too. Some of the players had their families at the game on Saturday and they went away at the end questioning whether they will return. After seeing that, they don’t want their kids witnessing more of that kind of thing unfold. It just has no place in football.
Would you have anything else you’d like to say or a message to supporters?
GM: I just want to say thank you to the fans who have supported us and sent message out to us. I don’t want to be seen as something I’m not, I know there are people a lot higher than me and people involved with Kick It Out who do their jobs to try and tackle the problem. I just want to thank those who have supported us. I am not stupid, I know that it was a small minority of fans but it has to stop. We play for your Club and we play for the shirt and don’t expect to see that, home or away, anywhere in football, anywhere in the world, anywhere in life. It has to stop.