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Does Norfolk have a racism problem - on and off the pitch?

Tom Adeyemi, on loan from Norwich, in action for Oldham Athletic in an FA Cup match against Liverpool at Anfield.

Tom Adeyemi, on loan from Norwich, in action for Oldham Athletic in an FA Cup match against Liverpool at Anfield.

PA Wire/Press Association Images

Racism in football has again been in the headlines - but are problems on the pitch just a reflection of what is happening off it?

It was a problem many people had thought had disappeared for good.

But with the announcement that a parliamentary committee is to intervene, racism in football has once again become a subject on the front and back pages.

With Liverpool striker Luis Suarez banned for eight matches last month, and England captain John Terry denying criminal charges for a racially aggravated public order offence, Norwich City’s Tom Adeyemi was last week dragged into the row.

The 20-year-old found himself at the eye of the storm after being the target of alleged racist abuse while playing for Oldham in an FA Cup match at Liverpool.

But are these high-profile cases signs of a racist resurgence, or an indication that football and society are finally reaching a point of zero tolerance?

Former Norwich City legend Dale Gordon believes the problem has never gone away – and says the outlook of ever stamping racism out completely is bleak.

“Racism has always been there, and I think it always will be,” he said.

“It happens day in, day out, behind closed doors, on training pitches. It seems that it’s part and parcel of our industry.

“I heard things said when I was playing, but I just turned a blind eye to it all. You can’t let it bother you.”

The culture media and sport committee announced on Tuesday it would hold a meeting on March 6 to investigate racism in sport.

But Mr Gordon believes that racism is a particular problem in football, where an entrenched culture of disrespect allows racism in through the back door.

“You only have to look at rugby,” he said. “The code of conduct, how supporters conduct themselves, how players conduct themselves. They can drink alcohol in the stadiums, and the supporters interact with each other with no trouble.

“That is a far more aggressive game, but there seems to be total respect throughout the whole of rugby.”

The spotlight on top-level football means that any indiscretions are immediately flagged up, but the same is not true of the lower leagues or youth football.

“I work in schools, and I hear racist terms all the time – they seem to be part of everyday life. You can educate and raise awareness, but I don’t think you can ever get away from it – you’ll never stamp it all out.”

Kathy Blake of the Norwich City Supporters’ Club shares Mr Gordon’s pessimism at eradicating racism completely, but denies that football’s problem is out of proportion with the wider public.

“I don’t know if you’ll ever get rid of racism totally – it’s a problem in society, and supporters come from that society. I wouldn’t say it’s common, but it’s there, and it rears its ugly head now and again,” she said.

Reporting incidents from the stands has been made easier in recent years, with text lines set up to identify abusers to stewards who can deal with the issue.

“It’s a difficult thing to do, because you don’t know how people are going to react. You might end up with a punch in the face.”

And reporting every incident remains the only way of sending home the zero-tolerance message, says Norfolk FA’s chief executive, Shaun Turner, who sees the high-profile nature of recent cases as an opportunity to be seized with both hands.

“People can hide from the issue but we have a duty to highlight them – by doing that we can inform and educate,” he said.

“Tom Adeyemi did exactly the right thing by reporting the incident – it showed we are not prepared to tolerate it and will encourage others to come forward. That way, people will become more tolerant and vigilant.”

Three of Norfolk FA’s 600 disciplinary cases last season involved racial elements, and there have so far been none in 2011/12 – figures that reflect the work of campaigns such as Kick It Out, said Mr Turner.

And the lower leagues are a good place to find reasons for optimism in football – in particular Division 3B of the Evening News Copy IT Norwich Sunday League, where One Love United lead the way.

The squad of friends includes 13 different nationalities, including players from Kurdistan, Guinea Bissau and the UK. The team won promotion last season, and is on course to repeat the feat this season.

Mr Turner added: “It’s the nation’s game, with people of all ages and backgrounds playing. We can’t get lost in this issue – there are millions of people who watch the game across the country, and it is a very small minority who say these things.

“We want to get to the stage where people are not saying these things at all, but unfortunately we’re probably not there yet.”

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