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"Racism slashes like a knife and takes a piece of you away" | Curtis Fleming

In a wide-ranging discussion on the pervasive presence of racism within football, former Republic...


"Racism slashes like a knife and takes a piece of you away" | Curtis Fleming

In a wide-ranging discussion on the pervasive presence of racism within football, former Republic of Ireland full-back Curtis Fleming shared his experience of being the target of such abuse while a player in the League of Ireland. 

At either end of a playing career that saw Curtis Fleming play Premier League football and earn international recognition with the Republic of Ireland, he enjoyed two stints in the League of Ireland with St. Patrick's Athletic and Shelbourne.

A league winner with Brian Kerr's Pats side, Fleming would play in the Champions League qualifiers with Shelbourne during his solitary season with the club.

"I was a senior player at the end of my career and was just absolutely buzzing to be playing for Shels," he explained on Wednesday's OTB AM, "and to have a chance of playing in Europe, it was incredible."

Although his experiences with domestic football on this island brought him into contact with some truly remarkable people, as was recently recalled by Fleming's former Shels teammate Stuart Byrne on OTB AM, the presence of racism couldn't be ignored either.

"In my first few seasons playing in the League of Ireland, there's no doubt you would hear it," he explained of the racially charged comments that would come from people in the stands. "I was 18, 19 and on away days, there's no doubt you'd hear abuse. 'Go back to where you come from', and all that stuff.

"But that stuff being said was treated as acceptable. People would be laughing along with it and when you're inexperienced you just think that's how it is."

Curtis Fleming

As a Shelbourne player around 15-years on, the culture had changed somewhat. In his younger teammates, Curtis Fleming identified a greater awareness for how such attacks could impact the players they were targeted at.

Of a Champions League qualifier in Bucharest, a game that Stuart Byrne revisited in great detail on OTB AM, Fleming recalled noticing how the issue of racism generated a less ambivalent response.

"The biggest thing that stood out for me though was how it impacted the lads we were playing with," he explained. "I'd probably say it impacted them more than it did me.

"What a change that was, really. Instead of that old, 'Get on with lads, you're OK', guys like Stuey Byrne and little Wes were actually thinking about it and saying this wasn't right.

"I've heard people to say like, oh, sticks and stones will break my bones but words will never hurt me. I'm not having that though. Words and using names are like the little slash of a knife. They hurt you inside and take a little bit of you away."

Curtis Fleming

Growing up in Ireland, the colour of Curtis Fleming's skin distinguished him from almost everyone around him. Although he cited the likes of former Ireland full-back Chris Hughton as an inspiration and a cause for hope, it could be an incredibly isolating experience.

"I was a black kid and my mother was a white Irish woman who brought us up alone," he said. "I'm 51 now, but there is one incident that really stands out to me from when I was about 10 or 11. We were a bunch of lads going down the baths and as we went over the canal down by Croke Park this fella was coming toward us.

"A large man with kind of a woolly hat on, and as we were walking he veered a little bit toward me. 'You f*****g black thing, go back to your own country.' I didn't know what had happened. It really shook me. The lads were kind of saying he's a bit mad and all that, but it has always stuck with me.

"It was just that realisation that I'm different. I've had a good life, have three beautiful daughters but I don't want any of them to have to deal with anything to do with the colour of their skin."

You can watch back Curtis Fleming's interview on OTB AM in full here. Throughout, Curtis discusses his new role with Punjab FC in Indian football, opportunities for BAME coaches and managers in English football and changing perceptions.

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Crystal Palace Curtis Fleming Middlesbrough Republic Of Ireland Shelbourne Soccer