Wes Foderingham yesterday sacrificed his day off for a question and answer session with schoolchildren on behalf of Kick It Out. An insult hurled at him three years ago that demanded an incredulous response lies behind the Rangers goalkeeper committing his time to an organisation that seeks to tackle racism and discrimination within football.
While playing for Swindon Town, Foderingham was walking to his team coach after an “away game”, that he leaves unspecified. “One of the away supporters said ‘goalkeeper, go back to your own country’,” recalled the 25-year-old, who was born and raised in London but just happens not to be white. “At the time I didn’t know how to react as it was my first experience. I went up to him and said, ‘what are you talking about?’ and he couldn’t really back it up as he wasn’t sure what he said.
“I’m not sure the guy was a racist. It’s something that is said in the heat of the moment, but it all comes down to education, and campaigns like this help to educate the young. With the younger generation it is ignorance and if you can tap into their minds then I think that’s the way to go.”
Foderingham, who said he hasn’t “witnessed anything personally” in terms of racism since arriving in Glasgow last summer, acknowledges there is “definitely a problem in society and in football”. He believes it is not a problem that football soft soaps.
“There is a problem in society and I think campaigns such as Kick It Out can help. There are cases in sport all the time – although maybe not so many in the UK. There was a recent case in America with the former owner of the [basketball team] LA Clippers, Donald Sterling. He was given a lifetime ban and fined £2.5 million and I don’t think you will see punishments like that in football. But maybe tougher sanctions should be looked at.”
That is something his employers might tread warily over. Foderingham has come to a country where sectarianism is highlighted above racism – though the two are often intertwined in the bigoted expressions of some supporters.
Foderingham’s personal experience of racism was being told to “go back to his own country”. It is ironic, then, that a couple of years back, it was dismissed by many as just a mockery of Celtic fans’ obsession with their Irishness for the Rangers support to sing “the famine is over, why don’t you go home”. Equally ironic might be considered Celtic supporters’ sensitivities over that song when now they laud a player, Leigh Griffiths, who derided Czech Rudi Skacel as a “f****** refugee”.
The anti-Catholic sentiments of The Billy Boys, with its “up to our knees in Fenian blood” line – “fenian” explicitly Irish – Foderingham could not have escaped hearing from vast swathes of a packed Ibrox stadium during their December top of the table Championship encounter against Hibs. Sectarianism in this form is entitled to remain alien to him, but he deserves credit for not entirely side-stepping the issue when asked about it.
“I’m still new to it – I know the club do a lot of work in the community and they issued a statement after the Hibs game as well. They have done lots of work for many years now and I’m fully supportive of that.”
Plastic pitches have become another vexing subject. Earlier this week, PFA Scotland’s Fraser Wishart petitioned the SFA to ensure that synthetic surfaces were of a proper standard, with too many of varying quality. In the dodgy category, Wishart surely had Alloa’s pitch in mind. Rangers play there on Saturday. With their Scottish Cup replay at Rugby Park to follow on Tuesday, then a weekend trip to Queen Of the South, the next three matches for Mark Warburton’s men will be on plastic.
Foderingham doesn’t sound wowed by that prospect but neither is he concerned about Rangers’ exile from grass for a crucial spell. “We’ve been training on them a lot this season anyway because the weather has made it difficult to get out there on grass pitches,” he said. “We are familiar with those surfaces. All we can do is prepare the same way and just try and play our normal game. These pitches don’t hinder our performances.”
Meanwhile, the keeper is bullish about what Rangers’ performances against top-flight opposition say about how the team is likely to perform in the Premiership. With an eight-point lead in the Championship the Ibrox side will take some budging. Yet, at Rugby Park next week they will be seeking a first win over top-flight opponents at a third attempt, following a 0-0 in the original tie, and a 3-1 loss to St Johnstone in the League Cup.
Foderingham accepts Warburton will require to augment his squad for the challenges of next season, but seems confident the basis for a team capable of prospering at Scotland’s top level is already in place.
“I think we would do very well in the Premiership. I don’t see a massive difference between Premiership sides and the teams that we play. I think on both occasions we have dominated. Obviously, against St Johnstone we didn’t get the result and against Kilmarnock we just didn’t get the goal. We dominated the ball and if we put away a couple of our chances against them, it would have been different. But over the course of the two games we did very well.”