Gregory Tade believes prejudice is a thing of the past north of the Border
FOR Gregory Tade, it is black and white. There is no racism in Scottish football. There is no discrimination, no prejudice and therefore no need to complain about the campaign to end it.
As the English game bickers over how best to kick it out, the St Johnstone striker claims that, north of the Border, it has already been booted into touch.
Which is not to say that Tade has never experienced it in this country. Kevin Fotheringham, the East Fife player, was alleged to have made racist remarks in the Frenchman’s direction four years ago, the result of which was an eight-match ban. More recently, a student was ordered to carry out community service after racially abusing him on Twitter.
Tade acknowledges those incidents, but insists that they are in the past. He says that they are not representative of a people he has taken to his heart since moving to Scotland as a teenager. Having been allowed to escape the poverty of a Nantes housing project, the 26-year-old is interested only in thanking his adopted countrymen for the opportunity.
“Obviously, the incident happened with me a few years ago, but it was dealt with,” says Tade. “It’s done. There is no racism whatsoever in Scottish football, in the street, playground, whatever. I don’t know about a few years ago. Maybe it was a problem then. But it’s been eradicated. People have grown up and come to their senses.
“I can say to everyone – all the black people, Jewish people, people from different countries, with different religions – the Scottish people are great people. They are not racist. As long as you work hard, they don’t care what colour or religion you are. They welcome you.”
Some will be inclined to contest Tade’s view, but you can see where he is coming from. With experience only of the French amateur leagues, he was a nobody until he pitched up on these shores, but a career that started with relegation to the Scottish Third Division is now flying in the upper reaches of the SPL. On Tuesday night, he and his St Johnstone side will play at Celtic Park in the quarter-final of the Scottish Communities League Cup.
Excuse him if he has no criticism of Scottish football. He has been able to make the most of himself, and likes to think that others will be allowed to do the same, even black managers. He admits that there are too few of them in Britain, but is uncomfortable with recent suggestions that a quota system is needed. For the sake of their own self-esteem, he would rather they earned the job.
“What is it going to be next? You have to have three black players in your team? Three Chinese? Three from Pakistan and three from France? Two from Scotland? Where’s that going to get you? We cannot have quotas. The UK is a land of opportunity, a bit like America. If you work hard, if you are the best man for the job, you will get it. I believe that.”
Tade has certainly worked hard. Some would say – his detractors among them – that it is all he has done. By his own admission, he is not the most skilful of players, but he has always been determined to compensate. So desperate was he to overcome any shortcomings that, when he sought a club in Britain, he falsely claimed on his CV to have played for the Ivory Coast. He also said that he was a product of the Nantes youth academy, when in fact his only experience had been with Orvault Sports Football.
“You do what you have to do to make something of yourself. You just do. It was not the worst thing. It was not the best either because it was a lie. My CV was not honest. But I can look back and say I don’t regret it. It would have been different if I had never gone on to produce anything. It was just something to show that I had some kind of football background.”
Born in Nantes, of Ivorian parents, Tade’s father left home when Gregory was young, leaving him with his mother and two sisters. That, he says, was when he grew up, when he learned that nothing in life was likely to come easy. “Living in the project in France, you realise that life is not a picnic. It’s not the best. You just have to make the most of it. You only get something out of it if you work hard. Life is not designed for lazy people.
“Some people get lucky for a while, but they are found out pretty quickly.”
Tade’s first experience of Scotland was when he came to visit his cousin, Armand One, the striker who has played for Partick Thistle, Cowdenbeath, Stranraer and Alloa Athletic, amongst others. One, also brought up in Nantes, used to say that Tade was special, that he had something other players didn’t.
“He said I had anger, and that I wanted it badly. He said if I kept working hard, eventually I would get noticed.
“Some players are blessed with a natural first touch, some with trickery or very good vision. Me? I don’t think I was born with all of that, but I had determination, patience and a work ethic. If I could develop that more than other players, it would be a tremendous asset. So that’s what I did.”
After Tade’s Scottish girlfriend introduced him to an agent, he got his first chance with Forfar Athletic in 2006. There, he was relegated to Scotland’s bottom tier, as he was with Stranraer, before a productive spell with Clyde earned him a move to Raith Rovers. After two successful years in Kirkcaldy, which included an appearance in the Scottish Cup semi-final against Dundee United, he progressed to the SPL, first with Inverness Caledonian Thistle – for whom he scored nine league goals – and now St Johnstone. Despite fears to the contrary, he has proved this season that there is life after Cillian Sheridan and Francisco Sandaza, just as there was after Adam Rooney in the Highlands.
A key figure in St Johnstone’s recent surge, Tade is popular in Perth, as a player and a person. In the lobby at McDiarmid Park, the receptionist warns that he is “a bit mad”. He is an infectious, bubbly character, a bit like his manager, Steve Lomas. “He tries to be funny,” jokes Tade. “Too much sometimes, but I like him. He’s cool.”
Tade has been well-liked at most of his clubs. At first, supporters tend to be wary, but they soon change their mind about the powerful juggernaut of a striker, who runs and battles and closes people down with such energy that it is tiring to watch. He is the archetypal cult hero, a player with whom fans identify. When the final whistle sounds, he may not have scored, but he has given his all.
“It wouldn’t be fair for me to finish the game and say ‘I’m not tired, it’s only football’. It’s expensive to go to a football match. It must be frustrating if you pay money to support your team, and they are just walking through it. They are supposed to give you joy after a long, hard week. We have two legs. We are supposed to run and try hard. I don’t know what’s difficult about that. Hard work is just sweat.
“When you play football for a living, that’s your job. My mum was a cleaner. She worked every day, very, very hard. When she came back from work, she was exhausted. I was the same. I worked for five years in a call centre. So when I step on to the park, I never forget that it is my job. I try to give everything I’ve got.”
In recent weeks, Tade has proved that there is more to his game than industry. Against Kilmarnock last Saturday, he was the perfect partner for Nigel Hasselbaink, demonstrating quite a repertoire of moves in their 2-1 triumph. And his goal against Celtic last month helped to set up the win that turned St Johnstone’s season around. The aim on Tuesday will be to secure another one in Glasgow. “They might be tired,” warns Tade. “Or they might be thinking about their next Champions League game. Of course it will be hard… but we’ve done it before.”
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