In the first of a new four-part series we examine some of football’s darkest days in the UK, paying particular attention to the 1980s, a decade so dispiriting that it eventually made us collectively reassess who we are and what we wanted from our national sport.

From bigotry, to hooliganism, to the tragedy that ultimately changed everything.

We begin with racism and concentrate our focus – fairly or unfairly – on an October evening in 1987 at Everton FC, a fine and noble club in many ways, yet one that was long tarnished with a reputation for bigotry.

A picture tells a thousand stories

John Barnes’ first appearance in a Merseyside derby – a cup match in 1987 – became a watershed for racial abuse in the British game. As large swathes of the Goodison Park crowd chanted monkey-noises, ‘Everton are white’ and ‘N**erpool’ the infamous image of this skilful player nonchalantly back-heeling a banana out of touch encapsulated the truly depressing ignorance that was so prevalent during that era. Yet it also symbolized perfectly the progress that was to come.

The banana (one of scores thrown onto the pitch that day) was hurled in dumb anger. It was returned dismissively with the casual flick of a talent only a few possess.

Intentionally or not, for the first time, the idiots were being mocked.

The photograph shocked the wider public yet for Barnes it was sadly not the first time he had experienced such disgraceful abuse.

As he told Alan Green during an interview ten years ago, ‘Because Liverpool v Everton was a very high-profile game a lot was made of it, but that sort of thing had been going on for years and years’.

He recalled matches earlier in his career at renowned cultural outposts such as West Ham and Millwall where it was almost commonplace to have bananas thrown in his direction, accompanied of course with the customary monkey grunts.

At the Maracana stadium in 1984 he scored one of the most mesmerizing goals ever seen in an England jersey to complete a famous 2-0 reverse of the mighty Brazil, only to then hear sections of the away support, prompted by members of the National Front who were in attendance, singing ‘1-0’. His goal apparently didn’t count.

So were Everton the only racist club around during those bleak unenlightened times? Far from it. In fact, barely a year before Barnes signed for Liverpool the Kop, reputedly a bastion for humour and magnanimity, was heard chanting the abhorrent ‘Pull that trigger’ refrain to a opposition player with a different skin tone to their own, the erudite lyrics of which rhymes ‘trigger’ with….well, you get the picture.

So why are we narrowing our ire solely towards the Toffees when the disease of bigotry within the English game was unquestionably pandemic, particularly so during the hooligan infested latter part of the previous century?

The answer to this lies beyond the terraces and lingers like an accusatory smell beneath the cigar smoke and brandy fumes in the boardroom.

Absence of proof is not proof of absence


Until 1994, when Nigerian striker Daniel Amokachi signed for the club after a successful World Cup, Everton FC had only ever had two black footballers on their professional books in their entire long and illustrious history.

For the record these two players were Mike Trebilcock, who scored a brace of goals in their 1966 FA Cup Final victory over Sheffield Wednesday, and Cliff Marshall, who played just seven games during the mid-70s.

The Cutter has researched this thoroughly and will be only too happy to retract and change this information if we are wrong here.

But two players in one hundred and sixteen years of existence? Including, pertinently, several years during the latter end of that time-scale when all of their peers had multicultural squads containing players of every background, race, colour and creed.

To paraphrase Marcellus in Hamlet, this definitely points to something being rotten in the state of Everton.

Down the years there were many allusions, nods and winks, to there being an unofficial policy within the corridors of power at the club to not sign a black player. Or at the least, an unhealthy resistance and reluctance to.

There were reputed attempts to sign Dion Dublin, Ian Wright and Mark Walters during the late-eighties but no firm bids were ever put in place and for several years the stigma of discrimination was levelled at the clubs hierarchy, accusations that grew in vehemence and legitimacy with every passing season.

Anecdotally, within the football community, the word was out that Everton had an inherent racism problem.

On the terraces there were noticeably far less ethnic minorities in attendance than at other clubs. One black Evertonian sums up his experiences during that time –

‘After listening to the terrible abuse on a regular basis for more than two seasons, and on one occasion being insulted by a racist outside Goodison, I stopped going to watch my beloved team, totally disillusioned that we had not taken a tougher stance on racism as other big city clubs had’.

‘I even remember one programme during the 88-89 season warning our supporters that at our next game at Aston Villa they should not get involved in racist abuse or they may be ejected from the stadium as Villa had a strong policy against racist chanting. There was no condemnation of racism per se, just a warning not to do it against Villa!’

‘It just didn’t seem like the club took the problem seriously in those days’.

Their ill-wanted reputation extended to official rebukes. As late as 2000 a survey conducted by the Centre for Football Research at Leicester University found that racial abuse aimed at black or foreign players was more prevalent at Goodison Park than at any other ground in Britain, topping even the sectarian cesspits of ignorance and hatred up in Glasgow (Rangers and Celtic came second and third respectively…not that respect has anything to do with it).

As previously mentioned, Everton, in many ways are a fine and noble football club.

So why was an institution situated in a outward-looking port city with a rich heritage of social inclusion (some areas of Liverpool have the highest percentage of successful multicultural integration in the country and significantly the BNP have repeatedly failed to gain any form of foothold with their vile shit-stirring, certainly in comparison to other parts of the UK that are racially mixed) so closely associated with bigotry?

Something had to be done and, thankfully, over time, something was.

Yes We Have No Bananas


There has been no cure-all solution, no gradual panacea that means we might talk about this social blight entirely in the past tense.

Although considerable progress has been made there remains an undesirable underbelly of intolerance that still surfaces with isolated roars of racial fury whenever Saha blazes over from five yards or Ngog clatters into Jagielka.

This is much the case, depressingly, at every other club across the country.

Yet nowadays racism is no longer acceptable as a pack activity and has been reduced to a ruddy-faced moron bellowing his archaic views whilst people around him either tut with disapproval or bravely shout him down.

It is progression that mirrors our social advancement and although the war is far from won the isolation of such bigots is a small mercy we should embrace considering the path we have trodden to get here. If not accept fully as a fait accompli.

It began at Everton immediately following their very public nadir.

Just four days after their Littlewoods Cup fixture against Liverpool, the bananas still ripe in the garbage disposal, they faced their neighbours again in the league.

Chairman Philip Carter, for the first time, spoke out against the bigotry that was gravely harming the reputation and standing of his club. His vocal castigation of the fans finally broke the implicit, but unspoken, collusion of official tolerance to intolerance and possibly it was this, or the shame felt by right-minded Evertonians at the mid-week atrocities imparted upon Barnes, but what occurred the following Saturday afternoon was immensely significant.

When Barnes first touched the ball some supporters attempted to goad him with their, regrettably now-familiar, monkey impersonations. They were swiftly, and rounded, booed into silence.

Everton’s hierarchy resolved to clear up the terraces that were previously considered a no-go zone for ethnic minorities. They began touring areas such as Toxteth, addressing ethnic groups and handing out free tickets for forthcoming games.

A scheme was put in place where, at a click of a mobile phone button, assistance would quickly arrive if anyone received, or heard, racial abuse.

An organisation was formed, ‘Everton Against Racism’ and crucially a club policy was established that was dedicated to ‘keeping racism and hooliganism out of football’ and upholding ‘principles of equal opportunities in all dealings’.

Let us not be naïve here. Such schemes and legislation, however laudable, are usually limited in their scope and can often be just a simple proclamation of a club’s values and ideals and nothing more. Their actual impact is negligible in the real world.

It does however point to a significant collective shift in philosophy and a determination to move the club forward and away from a suspect, blemished past. It is certainly true to say that today Goodison Park is a much more socially diverse and friendly place to watch a game of football. As Charlie Sheen would say, the good guys are winning.

Tom, an Evertonian, told us, ‘It has been pushed out now. Of course there are still some idiots about but we are starting to see more ethnic minorities come to Goodison. The UK, and Liverpool, has come a lot further over the past 20, even 10, years and racism just isn’t acceptable anymore, when back in those days it was. I’m someone who misses the old atmosphere but you can see that one of the main benefits of the new kind of crowds it the abolishment of racism in football grounds’.

It has been a long journey and, some might argue, that Everton unnecessarily took the back roads to get there, but the stigma of inherent racism that has long tainted the club can now finally be consigned to the past.