Inscribed on the headstone of Albert Johanneson, among those remembered at Lawnswood Cemetery on Otley Road, are the words: I rise, I rise.
Chosen by his daughters to encapsulate the very essence of the man their father was, that tribute – marking out the final resting place of one of Leeds United’s first ever black players – should inspire the response of everyone associated with the club as it tackles the racism witnessed around Elland Road.
The Black Flash, as Johanneson came to be known, endured the most abhorrent abuse when he came up against the institutional racism of the so-called beautiful game.
But, the man once described by the great George Best as courageous and skilful in equal measure, was a pioneer; a pathfinder. This was a man forced to face hatred head-on at a time when black people full stop – never mind footballers – endured discrimination of the most heinous kind on a daily basis.
It is easy to tell ourselves that horror stories like these are relics of a retrograde era that bear no resemblance to we enlightened creatures of today.
But scroll forwards the 58 years since Johanneson made his Elland Road debut to this, the club’s centenary year, and it is clear that more needs to be done if the club – and indeed the game – is to repay the founding fathers of equality in sport.
The video footage of one abuser – seen by this newspaper, but too shocking for publication – proves that any notion racism has already been kicked out of football is complacency at best, complicity at worst.
The so-called fan can clearly be seen and heard spewing disgusting racial slurs down onto the players whilst surrounded by Whites fans of all ages, races and backgrounds.
Sadly, we know this was not an isolated incident and it is to the club’s credit that it has responded quickly and unerringly in its commitment to cutting this tumour from the terraces; terraces that are meant to welcome one and all.
It is also reassuring to see Managing Director Angus Kinnear state that those found guilty of racism inside Elland Road will be hit with the ‘strongest possible penalties.’
That can only mean lifetime bans from the ground, court appearances for those who believe they can get away with peddling this hateful bile and media like your YEP showing the families, friends and employers of these people what they’re really like.
But unless each and every one of us commits to playing our part in beating this, football will never be able to rise and rise to the standards set by Johanesson and truly be able to call itself the beautiful game.