There could be quite an acceptance speech from Nathan Austin were he to claim the League Two player of the year accolade at the PFA Scotland awards in Glasgow tonight. Instead of thanking all those that made it possible, the departing East Fife winger could rail against all the racists he refused to allow make his footballing ambitions impossible.
The 22-year-old, who played on loan at Bayview for the second half of the season after signing for Falkirk in January, would have been lost to the game if he had followed his mum Jennifer’s pleas to give up football because of the abuse he was taking as a black youngster playing boys’ club football in East Wemyss. Incredibly, the racism he was forced to endure came from the players and coaches of opposition teams. “I was never going to quit but my mum wanted me to quit because she didn’t want to sit and hear that every week,” Austin said.
The tipping point came when he reacted to the barracking. “I received a red card after reacting to a racial taunt and I appealed it, but the red card stood,” he recalled. In response, Austin went to the Daily Record with his story and dealt with Show Racism The Red Card, whom he says were “brilliant”. What has followed demonstrates that confronting such issues in a high-profile manner can be the means to educate the ignorant.
“Once it came out to the papers and stuff that is when it really kind of stopped altogether,” Austin said. “I have never really received anything that bad after that. It’s been brilliant. Opposition players have been fine. As an amateur and professional it’s been fine, I never really received any racial abuse or anything like that.
“I think it [going public] helps. If you ask a lot of mixed race people and black people in Scotland about the racial abuse they received in football I think they would tell of very little, and from a minority. I don’t think there is a lot of it. I think there is respect for people of different races.”
Austin came through the experience strengthened as an individual in no small part because of the support structure around him. “You know, my friends were always there, my team-mates, and they always stood up for me. Even my coach William Wilkie, who I am still really close to, he put his arm round my shoulder and said ‘you’ll be the one laughing when you’re still playing football and they’re not’. And I am.”
Now Austin can afford to have a “laugh and a joke” with his mum about what might have happened if he had been guided by her appeal for him to turn his back on the sport. One where she could delight in watching her two sons play, with Nathan Austin’s younger brother Jordan on the fringes of East Fife’s championship-winning side.
“You couldn’t understand how proud she is because my little brother has moved to East Fife,” said the older Austin. “She comes down and watches us, even if he doesn’t play as much as he would like, she’s unbelievably proud. I love her to bits and that’s all I want to do; make her proud.”
Austin can now look forward to the possibility, not just of playing full-time at Falkirk next season, but potentially doing so in the Premiership, depending on the forthcoming play-offs.
“I was working as a labourer on a construction site and I got a call from my agent saying Falkirk were interested,” he recalled. “I went through and saw Peter Houston and heard their plans. It was brilliant and luckily the club came to a deal. It’s been weird playing for East Fife and supporting Falkirk as they try to get into the Premiership.
“It’s been quite an incredible season. I was playing amateur a few seasons back, I loved every minute of it. It wasn’t easy stepping up. I came from amateur where I was playing and scoring every week to sitting watching but I bided my time and it paid off.”
In refusing to be cowed by racists, Austin deserves every reward.