Brave Rhian Brewster Gave Uefa a Kick up the Backside

Brave Rhian Brewster Gave Uefa a Kick up the Backside

Tuesday, 13 March, 2018 - 07:45
Rhian Brewster tangles with Leonid Mironov of Spartak Moscow during Liverpool’s Uefa Youth League match at Prenton Park on 6 December 2017. Photograph: Nick Taylor/Liverpool FC via Getty Images
London - Daniel Taylor
It seemed to get lost, amid the news from Uefa that one of the players accused of racially abusing Rhian Brewster would not face any disciplinary sanctions, that we might have seen the first evidence over the last few days that it is possible for a boy of 17 to persuade the people at the top of football that something has to change. That might not be immediately obvious, unfortunately, after the announcement that no action would be taken against Spartak Moscow’s Leonid Mironov and, to be clear, Uefa’s track record in these matters is so appalling there is a long way to go before anyone can say with confidence this organisation should no longer be viewed through suspicious eyes.

Equally, I cannot help think that Kick It Out – an organisation I would always want to support – slightly missed the point when it described itself as “deeply disappointed” about the latest verdict rather than focusing on the fact Uefa does seem to have been pressured, embarrassed even, into beefing up its procedures since Brewster decided to take a stand.

That, after all, was Brewster’s underlying wish when he went public in December about the seven alleged incidents when either he had experienced racial abuse or he had witnessed it happening to a team‑mate, including five occasions in the previous seven months and one playing for England against Spain in the Under-17 World Cup final. He was speaking out, he said, because it was time the people running the sport understood the seriousness of the issue and, where necessary, started meting out punishments that would act as a proper deterrent. As the journalist who interviewed him, it was one of the more fulfilling assignments – and very easy to understand why there was an overwhelming response in his favour.

The intriguing part was whether a 17-year-old had a powerful enough voice to carry all the way to Uefa headquarters. Yet the fact Brewster was so young, not even having made his first-team debut for Liverpool, is probably one of the principal reasons why the story had such an impact. And some of the revelations left you cold if you remember, as one example, that when he alleged a Sevilla player had called him the N-word in a Uefa Youth League game the governing body did not even contact Brewster before concluding there was insufficient evidence for disciplinary action. None of Liverpool’s staff was interviewed to establish if there were witnesses and, to the club’s knowledge, neither were the match officials. Sitting opposite Brewster in an upstairs room at Liverpool’s academy, it did not need long in his company to understand why the player at the heart of this story, with the full support of his club, had serious misgivings about the processes Uefa employed and the effort, or lack of it, that went into establishing the truth.

And maybe – hopefully – his decision to speak out did give Uefa the kick up the backside that was long overdue, because at least in the Mironov case there was a thorough attempt to establish the facts. And, yes, that might be the least you would expect – but it is a hell of a lot more than apparently happened in the Sevilla case. Or, indeed, the game for England against Ukraine in the European Under-17 Championship when Brewster says he reported another N-word incident, with the support of the Football Association, and nobody from Uefa ever got back in touch. Another one, to use his description, that “disappeared”.

Uefa will have to understand there will always be criticism until the organisation starts taking stronger action and, more than anything, stops handing out lamentable punishments to the teams and national associations whose crowds are guilty. Brewster was there, for example, when a Liverpool team‑mate, Bobby Adekanye, was targeted with primitive “ooh-ooh” monkey chants in another Uefa Youth League game against Spartak Moscow, this time in Russia. His revulsion is understandable when the punishment for the Russians was to display an anti-racism banner and close 500 seats that would not have been filled anyway.

All the same, it is mildly encouraging – a start, if nothing else – that Uefa did properly investigate his claims that Mironov “leaned over me, right down to my face and said: ‘Suck my dick, you nigger, you negro.’” Five players from each side were interviewed, plus the match officials, before it became apparent that, if it was said, it was done out of everybody else’s earshot. That doesn’t mean it didn’t happen, it just means it was one man’s word against another (Mironov admitted swearing but denied anything racial) and, on that basis, it was pretty clear why no action could be taken. Disciplinary sanctions, Uefa emphasised in its statement, can be imposed only when there is “sufficient concrete proof”.

The question for Uefa is whether this investigation was beefed up simply because of the publicity. It is probably not a coincidence, after all, that a decision was initially taken in January but delayed by two months once Brewster’s story went viral. Are all Uefa’s investigations going to be treated with this seriousness from now on? Or has this one been made a special case? And, to go back to the earlier point, it isn’t always easy giving an organisation with Uefa’s track record the benefit of the doubt.

Likewise, there are some outstanding questions for Fifa, too. Brewster’s account of the World Cup final is that a Spain player called Morgan Gibbs-White a monkey. This time, there are two players who heard the alleged insult and it is not one man’s word against another. Yet it is four months now since the FA followed up its initial complaint by submitting the witness statements and there is still no verdict. Why the delay? I did contact Fifa on Friday to ask for a date. I am still waiting for an answer.

Awards night itself is worthy of a gong for banning Crewe
It’s always a fun night at the Northwest Football Awards. Ryan Giggs was at the last one with Gary and Phil Neville to present Brian Kidd with a lifetime achievement award. Vincent Kompany joined them on the stage. Phil Foden showed everyoneoff his Golden Ball from the Under‑17 World Cup and remembered his manners, nice lad that he is, by thanking his mum and dad. Every club in the region, from every league, is invited and the turnout gets more impressive every year.

The organisers certainly won’t have taken the decision lightly to exclude Crewe Alexandra from the next event because of the club’s decision to abandon plans for an independent investigation into the Barry Bennell scandal.

As a bit of background, a number of Bennell’s victims were guests at the last dinner. Some went on stage to address the audience and it was tough for them – as it always is. Tears were shed. Strangers lined up, wanting to shake their hands and thank them for speaking so well.

Against that kind of backdrop, it isn’t difficult to understand why the organisers feel there is nothing to celebrate about Crewe if the club do not think the victims deserve a full explanation.

“We feel strongly that the club owes it to the survivors, to their fans and the world of football as a whole, to finally be honest about the past, face up to the fact that people in the club must have been aware that all was not well, admit that mistakes were made and more should have been done to protect these young players, and finally do the right thing,” Laura Wolfe, speaking on behalf of the event, said. “We believe this is the only opportunity the club has to begin to rebuild their future and move on from this.”

She added: “Last month Barry Bennell was found guilty of his crimes and these brave men finally got some justice for what they had been put through all those years ago, when as young boys all they wanted to do was to fulfil their dreams and play professional football. These men deserve better from Crewe.”

They certainly do. Crewe’s MP, Laura Smith, has said the same. Crewe town council will pass a motion along similar lines on Tuesday and Gordon Taylor, chief executive of the Professional Footballers’ Association, intends to raise the matter with the Football League.

Sadly, I don’t think it will make any difference because it seems very clear the Crewe chairman, John Bowler, and his colleagues would rather take this kind of flak than let us know the full facts about those seven years when Bennell, now starting a 30-year prison sentence, had the run of Gresty Road. We can only guess why. But I say well done to the Northwest Football Awards for taking that stance – and it is a reminder that the good people in football outweigh the bad ones.

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