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Viv Anderson: ‘When I Saw the Banana Skin It Hit Me Like a Punch’

Viv Anderson: ‘When I Saw the Banana Skin It Hit Me Like a Punch’

Friday, 7 December, 2018 - 07:45
Liverpool’s John Barnes backheels off the pitch a banana thrown from the crowd during a Merseyside derby at Goodison Park in 1988. Photograph: BTS
London - Viv Anderson
I watched the Arsenal-Tottenham game and the banana skin wasn’t something anyone really noticed at the time. Then there were replays that showed some of the objects that were being thrown at Pierre‑Emerick Aubameyang as he celebrated his first goal, and when I saw the banana it hit me like a punch. The police have not charged anyone with any racially aggravated offence but it nonetheless reminded me of the sort of thing I thought we had eradicated from the game.

You go back to the famous John Barnes incident in a Merseyside derby, where he was photographed backheeling a banana off the pitch. That was the 1980s, a different time. The situation for black people in football has improved so much since then but we’ve still got a lot to do and a long way to go.

I once had a glass bottle thrown at me by West Ham fans at Upton Park. It missed, which is just as well because if that had connected it could have done some serious damage.

I immediately went to the referee and told him it had happened but nothing was ever done about it. In those days, when people standing behind the goals could move freely from one part of the stand to another, and with no CCTV cameras to identify anyone, there wasn’t much that could be done.

Technology has improved since then and thankfully so have our standards. But we still have to be vigilant. People in stadiums who see or hear offensive abuse have to stand up and report it, to be brave enough to say this is unacceptable.

Maybe Aubameyang will learn from the incident as well. If you celebrate a goal in front of the other team’s fans you can expect to get a certain amount of vitriol. It’s a game of emotions, and when you score – especially against your club’s local rivals – you’re going to have all these emotions flooding through you, and so are the players and supporters of the team that has just conceded. But there have to be boundaries, lines that we just do not cross, and this is one of them. As a football club, and as a society, this is something we cannot condone.

I’ve played for Arsenal and I’ve played in north London derbies. It’s always very intense, one of the biggest derbies going. In my day you’d get all sorts of abuse from the opposition fans but, as Ian Wright said on Match of the Day on Sunday night, I don’t think I ever got any racial abuse in the north London derby. At least nothing that I heard. But football fans reflect our society and there is still a proportion of the population which is racist, or which is inconsiderate enough to think throwing a banana at a black man is amusing or acceptable.

As a black man who played through the 1970s and 1980s, a time when racial abuse was relatively commonplace, when I see something like this it hits me like a slap in the face. You think the game has gone past this stage but there is still a battle to be won.

The focus for the future has to be on education. When I was playing, if something like this would have happened nobody would have done anything about it. But what was considered acceptable then is not accepted now. What is reassuring is that people saw this, not just black people, and thought: “This is not OK.” That, and the speed and firmness with which the police and the clubs involved have acted, is heartening.

The Guardian Sport

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