Southampton winger Eljero Elia says he won’t let racism affect him as he’s dealt with it his entire life.
The 28-year-old appeared as a special guest at the latest destination of Show Racism the Red Card’s tour at St Mary’s Stadium in Southampton – helping young children learn about the topic and how to deal with racist behaviour.
Having played in the Netherlands, Germany, Italy and now England, Elia admitted he has always ignored any abuse aimed towards him: “Racism never affects me.
“I don’t care what people say about me. I completely focus on football.
“When I was little, my mother and father always said to me, ‘I don’t care what people say about you or what they think about you, just follow your dream and go for it’.”
Unfortunately racism in football has dominated the sports back pages in recent weeks after a section of Chelsea supporters pushed a black off man off the train and chanted a racist song while on the way to a Champions League match against Paris Saint-Germain in the French capital last month.
Netherland’s forward Elia said the behaviour of those Chelsea fans was unacceptable, but was thankful the incident did not turn violent: “I was happy that they did not fight, they only pushed him. But it should not be allowed. I don’t care what colour you are – white or black. Everybody is the same.”
“I have experienced a lot of racism, but I have learned to handle it on my own. You need to accept it happens sometimes.”
He added, “You have good people, and you have bad people in life. But you only have to listen to the good people. Everybody can make a mistake or get something wrong, but if you know that you can help somebody, try to help them. Try to help them and together you become stronger. Whatever the bad people say to you, you have to leave it behind you and keep looking forward.”
Show Racism the Red Card is an education scheme that travels the breadths of the United Kingdom – helping children test their knowledge and learn more about racism through interactive activities, films and discussions.
When asked on how he would try to prevent racism in the sport, Elia replied: “Tough question! But I think it starts at events like this [Show Racism the Red Card]. You are the new generation. You are the young people. We are too old now.”
Having already learnt about some past experiences of racist abuse during SRTRC’s presentation, Elia gave the school children an insight into one of his most memorable tales regarding racist behaviour.
“It was just a normal day in Germany and I was shopping in my training suit,” he explained.
“One man was taking a photo of my car, so I said to him ‘Can I please get to my car?’ He looked at me and said, “YOU? How can YOU own this car?”
Elia continued, “I got in my car, opened the window and said, ‘It is not only black people that cannot buy this car. You have to be normal’. He was impressed that a guy like me could buy a very expensive car. If you dream, and you work for it, then you can go for that dream.”
Elia arrived in England back in January after joining Southampton on loan from German outfit Werder Bremen until the end of the 2014-15 season.
Despite also featuring for Serie A champions Juventus in Italy, where racism poses a serious threat to the game, Elia explains the close proximity with supporters in the Premier League enables footballers to hear crowd abuse much more easily.
“In England you hear everything because the pitch and the fans are so close to each other,” he explained.
“When I was playing in Germany, the people are far away from the pitch, so you don’t 100 per cent hear what they are saying. The first time I heard everything was against Queens Park Rangers. The fans said a lot of things [about me]. But I don’t care about what they say. I just continue to do what I do.”
Despite experiencing racism throughout his entire career, Elia explains footballers simply cannot stoop to their level as they are portrayed as role models all over the world.
“I have so much to lose if somebody gives me racist [abuse] and I give them attention back,” he said.
“I have to be a role model for you and other people who look up to us. In the days of social media, if somebody says something to us on Instagram or Facebook, nobody is going to read it. But if we go and say something back to them, then everybody can read it.
“We have to be smart, focused on our football and focused on our own lives.
“We have to stay positive and hope that people look up to us and visit the stadium to watch a good football match without using racism against players.”
One fairytale ending Elia is hoping to achieve this season is to bring Champions League football to St Mary’s next term.
But Saints’ 2-0 defeat at home to Liverpool on February 22nd was another major blow in the works for Ronald Koeman’s side’s pursuit of the Premier League’s top-four.
However, Elia insists Southampton should not be downbeat on their chances of securing European football next season, “Yeah the next day you feel terrible. But we have to continue, we have to stay positive. We know that we were the better team, it was only that they were more effective and scored twice.
“I could say a lot of things about the referee but we have to look at our own game and stay positive.”
Next up for Southampton is an away trip to Premier League leaders Chelsea – a crucial game that could define Saints’ season come the end of May.
However, Southampton have found the back of the net just twice since January 17, with Sadio Mane bagging winners against QPR and Crystal Palace within the last two months.
But the lack of goals within the squad doesn’t concern Elia too much: “Every game I play for Southampton now, we are like 80 per cent on the ball and are the better team.
“We create chances to score every game, so it will change.
“I always say when you score one goal, then the second will come too.”