At a Saturday morning training session, the Alpha United Juniors can enjoy just playing football.
These pitches, in the heart of Bradford’s Asian community surrounded by rows of houses and shops, seem a haven from abuse that is an enduring trauma.
When it comes to playing matches across Yorkshire, the fear of being tormented by racists on the pitch is constant – borne from the sense of inaction against perpetrators over the years.
Teenage player Mohammad Zayn-Ull-Din Hasaan told Sky News: “You know when we are playing away at a predominantly white area then sometimes it can get a bit nasty.
“And if we’re winning good, like comfortably, then I get it – they take their anger out, but sometimes it can be a bit racist.”
It is a debilitating experience for someone still dreaming of trying to make a career in the game, with experiences that resonate across grassroots football.
“It can make you drop your head sometimes but you have to keep strong, and it can really hurt you,” Mohammad said.
“I’m just playing football, doing what I love. But some people just take their anger out on you and you just have to keep your head up.”
A stain on English football
The abuse remains a stain on English football in a season when Premier League players have opted to no longer take a knee before every game.
However visible the “No room for racism” campaign remains at the top of the game, Alpha United Juniors don’t see necessary changes at their grassroots levels with greater protection for victims.
Data from Kick It Out shows the experiences at this West Yorkshire club, which won a Queen’s award for voluntary service, are a snapshot of a wider problem.
The discrimination monitors have seen a 41% rise in reports of discrimination in the grassroots game from 2019-20 to last season.
Losing faith in the system
Alpha United Juniors are losing faith in the system – reports of racism rarely lead to perpetrators being punished by local football officials.
Cases can be challenging to prove – when it’s the word of their player against an abusive opponent, even audio and video evidence suddenly becomes unavailable.
The fear, too, is being cast as “bad eggs”.
‘Nothing gets done’
Humair Shahid took a break from coaching the Alpha kids to express his frustration.
He said: “It is a lack of confidence after doing it for many years over the last 10 years and nothing gets done.
“You don’t have trust in the system.
“You just think: What is the point of reporting anything anymore to the league or the FA?”
But Kick It Out needs racism to be reported so it can document the scale of the problem and find solutions.
There is a need for changes.
‘We have to fix the problem’
Kick It Out chief executive Tony Burnett wants quality metrics to rate how responsive county FAs are to complaints of discrimination.
He said: “We have to fix the problem – and the problem in grassroots is about representation on county, FA boards.
“It’s about having people in place who understand the nature of discrimination and can deal with it appropriately and properly and the FA doing a huge amount to try and work with this as well.
“But it needs all parties to come to the table and take this issue seriously and deal with it and deal with the perpetrators.”
‘A game free of discrimination’
The West Riding FA was unable to provide a specific response to the concerns of Alpha United Juniors.
The Yorkshire organisation said: “At West Riding FA we treat all allegations of discrimination with the utmost importance as we strive to have a game free from discrimination.
“We would urge that anyone that is the victim of discrimination to contact us so that we can investigate fully.”
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