“A group of youths came walking down the hill and started shouting racist abuse at me,” he explains. “As they got closer one of them recognised who I was and the tone turned and they started asking for autographs. It spoke to the duality of what life was like for me back then. From Sunday to Friday I was a black man who could be subjected to this, and on Saturday I was a footballer whose name was being sung. I wanted to use the platform that came with being a footballer to speak about racism.”
Earlier this week Hislop was conferred with an Honorary Doctorate by the University of Newcastle for his work as an anti-racism educator in the city and beyond. The title follows a similarly prestigious occasion earlier in the summer when he was awarded the Freedom of the City of Newcastle in recognition of his work with Show Racism the Red Card.
Back in the mid-Nineties Ged Grebby was an active member in Youth against Racism in Europe, which sent educational packs to schools. Some of the literature got into the hands of Hislop, who pledged a £50 donation and publicised their work. In the following months the pair took time to chat and Show Racism the Red Card was founded.
On Monday the charity celebrated its 25th anniversary in Kings Cross – delayed by a year because of the pandemic - and Hislop, the charity’s Honorary President, was the star turn on a speakers’ panel which also included Grebby and Liverpool MP Kim Johnson among other figures from Unite, Unison and the National Education Union.
Hislop enjoyed 14 years in the English game, beginning at Reading in 1992 before moving on to Newcastle, Portsmouth and two spells with West Ham. But his legacy extends far beyond the pitch, with his tireless educational work in anti-racism continuing to this day.
“Off the back of a racist incident and a conversation with Ged we just wanted to make a difference in our community and shape a better city, a better society, for our own children to grow up in,” Hislop continues. “It hit me hardest in 2020 at the height of the Black Lives Matter movement where I felt that we had failed in that most basic starting point. I was talking to Leroy Rosenior over Zoom and he said, ‘Shaka, you have to see this as a relay race. We are moving this as far forward and running as good a leg as we can and handing the baton to the next generation, who then must run their leg.’ I have become comfortable in knowing that I will not live in that utopian world where we aren’t talking about racism and aren’t talking about inequality. I have become comfortable in running my leg of that race and I am now more focussed on how I can move the baton as far forward as I possibly can.”
A report this week revealed that more than 100 hate crime offences were recorded in London stadiums alone, between 1 June 2021 and 31 May this year. Football, mirroring society, is still struggling to deal with racism. Earlier this year, the Home Office announced that football banning orders would be extended to cover online hate offences, meaning online trolls could be banned from attending matches for up to 10 years in England and Wales. That followed the incidents at Euro 2020 last year when 11 people were arrested for racially abusing England’s Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka following the penalty shoot-out defeat to Italy in the final at Wembley.
Today’s players are experiencing racism on different platforms to Hislop. The former Trinidad and Tobago goalkeeper recognises this but is buoyed by the changing attitudes from those prevalent among his peers in and around the dressing room during the 1990s.
“At the time a lot of black footballers were told it was part of the territory that you endured that abuse and didn’t do anything about it,” he adds. “I felt I owed my kids the responsibility to speak about it. One of the things that has struck me as being different and impactful today is that footballers are speaking up louder, they are using their platforms to better effect. Especially since 2020, people are recognising the complaints of the black communities, what our communities have been complaining about for generations, and they are starting to do something about it.”
Show Racism the Red Card works closely with many footballers and uses the status of the sport to help tackle racism in society. The charity has also expanded into other sports, with cricketer Monty Panesar among the guests on Monday night. Most of the work involves the delivery of educational workshops to young people and adults in schools, workplaces and at events held in football stadiums. This has led to Show Racism the Red Card delivering education sessions to more than 50,000 individuals every year.
“I think we have only just started running,” Hislop concludes. “Racism has been hundreds of years in the making and it will be hundreds of years in the dismantling. We’ve gotten off to a start and we have to recognise the impact we’ve had even though there is a long way to go.”