Besiktas forward Kevin-Prince Boateng has given an account of how he was racially abused as a child in the neighbourhoods of Berlin where he grew up.
The subject of racism has been rife in football with Boateng one of the targets when he walked off the pitch in a friendly game with Pro Patria while playing for AC Milan in 2013.
Such was an unprecedented action never seen before but, it set the tone for football authorities to pay closer attention to racist abuse with referees now authorised to stop play if chants are heard from the stands during games.
The subject of racism has reached a new high globally following the death of George Floyd in the United States with football particularly the Premier League, standing in solidarity with the Black Lives Movement.
“When I was nine years old, I went to play in a tournament in East Germany. I grew up in a neighbourhood in Berlin that was poor, and that was also home to people who were from every corner of the world: Russia, China, Egypt, Turkey, everywhere,” Boateng wrote in the Players Tribune.
“When we fought each other, it was because we disliked each other in that moment, not because of discrimination. I never experienced racism there.
“But at the tournament in East Germany, I heard parents shouting at me from the sidelines. “Tackle the n*****.” “Don’t let the n***** play.”
“I was so … confused. I had only heard that word like maybe in a song or a movie or something, but I knew it was something against my colour. I felt so alone. I felt as if I was in a place where I was not supposed to be — but this was only a six-hour drive from Berlin. How could they love me in one part of the country and hate me in another just because I’m a different colour? As a kid, you don’t understand that.
“I had never spoken to anyone about how to deal with a situation like that. So, on the bus back to Berlin, I burst into tears. My teammates started crying, too. None of us understood what had happened. I never told my mum about it. I just ignored it and kept going. I thought it’ll go away. But it didn’t. And every time I played in East Germany, it got heavier.
“’For every goal you score, we’re gonna give you a banana. ‘I’m gonna put you in a box and send you back to your country, fucking n*****.’ It hurt so badly. When I was 14, I asked my teacher, ‘Do you see me differently from the other kids?’
“He said, “No. Why?” I said, “So why do they see me differently in the east? This is my country. I’m German. My mum’s German. So why do they want to send me away?”
“He explained that there are just some people in this world who are stupid. But I began to cry. I still couldn’t understand it. And soon the confusion turned into suspicion. You begin to think that people don’t like you, even though you don’t know them. Every mixed-race guy in Germany has this. It’s like, why are you looking at me? You don’t like me? You want trouble? Let’s go.
“I became aggressive. Disturbed. I got red cards all the time. I was a hothead. But you know what the worst part was? No one ever stood up for me. They knew what was happening to me. They heard the racism — and they just accepted it. The parents stayed quiet. The referee? Nothing. The coach? “Just ignore it.” So I did. I stored my anger inside. I became numb to it.”
Boateng who is one of the most outspoken football players on racism, went on to narrate his conservation with the referee in the game against Pro Patria. The 33-year-old Ghanaian was trying to be stopped by his teammates and other officials from walking off the pitch, but he had none of it.
“After 26 minutes I told the referee, ‘If they do that again, I’m gonna stop playing.’ He said, ‘No, don’t worry, just continue.’ Then, as I was trying to dribble past a player, I heard them again. I grabbed the ball, booted it toward the stands and began to walk off the pitch,” the former Tottenham Hotspur player continued.
“It wasn’t the first time I had been racially abused. But this time I just exploded. When the referee tried to get me to play on, I said, ‘Shut the fuck up.’ I told him, ‘You had the power to do something. You did nothing.’ When a rival player wanted me to stay on, I said, ‘You shut the fuck up as well. What did you do about it? Do you like what they’re doing?’
“As I walked towards the tunnel, our captain, Massimo Ambrosini, asked me, ‘Are you sure about what you’re doing?’ I said, ‘One hundred per cent sure.’
Boateng who is presently on loan from Fiorentina, missed Besiktas’ 5-1 win over Denizlispor at the weekend because of a muscle injury. He will hope to be in contention against Konyaspor on Friday evening.