An allegation of racism is a very serious allegation to make, but this is something that cuts both ways, as Blue Square South club Newport County are finding out to their cost this week. The allegations made centre around the (now former) Newport player Kevin Stephens, who left the club acrimoniously last week. Following last Wednesday’s home match between Newport County, Stephens made a serious allegation against a minority of Newport supporters and, after stating that he would never play for the club again, he has now signed for Ryman League club Boreham Wood.
It had, it has to be said, been a bad day at the office for The Exiles. Their neighbours from just over the border with England beat them 4-0 – another very poor result in a season that has been one of almost constant disappointment for a side that many believed would be good for a Blue Square South play-off place at the start of the season. During the match, an allegation of a racist chant was made at someone that was ejected from the ground, and at the end of the match manager Dean Holdsworth became involved in an altercation with someone that called him (either offensively or, to a degree, truthfully, depending on who you ask) a “f*cking English c*nt”. In the car park after the match, however, things took a turn for the frankly strange. This description is taken from the Newport fans’ forum:
On Wednesday after the game Kevin Stephens burst out of the dressing room and ran out through the foyer chasing somebody. We then followed him out into the car park where shouts and threats were made. Ade Harris and Ian Hillier managed to bring Kevin back inside. We overheard a threat that he was going to stab someone. At this point we were not sure who he had threatened we then inquired further as to what happened. It transpired that Kevin had traveled to the game with three friends who were in his car in the car park.
As he could not get to the person he was after he told his friends to do the job… We then stayed in the area of the car to monitor the situation. About five minutes later, three Bath City players left the ground by the main entrance, at this point the occupants of the car then got out and headed towards the bath players. I then intercepted them and asked were they leaving to which they replied yes. I then turned and went back towards the Merc (Kevin Stephens’ car) where the 3 men were stood and took a photo of the reg. At this point I was still unaware this was Kevin’s car. They took offence straight away and I explained it was for security reasons as there had been threats made. Kevin Stephens then come out and was told by occupants of the car that I had taken photograph, Stephens started shouting “it’s my ******* car it’s always here. This clubs a joke if they think I am traveling 3 hrs to get elbowed in the face and laughed at they are wrong”.
His friends then informed him that the player he was after had just left, he demanded his keys and said he would catch up with them out on the road. At this point I returned to the ground and spoke with Ray Cripps and we both approached Chris Blight and relayed the details of this incident. I would have said something earlier to you but did not know of the uproar that has followed as I have been away. At no point did I hear any racist remarks or hear Kevin make any claims of such after the game.
After the match, Stephens was interviewed by the South Wales Argus, and confirmed that he would not be playing for the club again. He has since joined Boreham Wood, of the Ryman League Premier Division. The club, perhaps understandably, have publicly expressed their anger at the incident, but both the club and the local paper have come under fire from supporters who claim to have heard no such racist language being used. No-one really disputes that Newport have a tiny minority of supporters of an unsavoury nature, but the fans’ suspicion is that a massive mountain is being built out of a molehill constructed by a player that didn’t much want to stay at Newport in the first place.
The truth of this unfortunate story is that treading carefully is the order of the day when dealing with an allegation of this nature. It may well be true that the South Wales Argus – and, by extension, Newport County FC – have acted too quickly in issuing an outiright condemnation of an incident that may not have happened. However, it is right and proper that such an allegation should be investigated thoroughly, and it is encouraging to see a club taking such an allegation as seriously as seems to have happened in this case. The alternative, after all, would be to simply brush it under the carpet and claim that there is never any problem.
Several Newport supporters have stuck their heads above the parapets and confirmed that there has been a problem with this sort of behaviour at Spytty Park before, so the club should investigate it and the local newspaper is right to report it. The reason why “Kick Racism Out Of Football” remains a prominent campaign within the game is to ensure that racism continues to become a thing of the past within British football grounds. The motive of Kevin Stephens remain unknown, but if the alternative is no action being taken towards allegations of this nature, then it is for the best that Newport fans take this on the nose, accept that thse allegations were not made towards them personally, and seek to ensure that anybody that does throw racist abuse about is pointed out to stewards and thrown out of the ground. It is a type of “support” that they can, frankly, do without.