Haringey chairman describes alleged racist incident as ‘soul-destroying’
Aki Achillea agreed that walking off was the right thing to do.
Haringey chairman Aki Achillea has described Saturday’s FA Cup match against Yeovil that was abandoned following alleged racist abuse as “soul-destroying”.
The fourth qualifying round match at Coles Park saw the players walk off, led by boss Tom Loizou, in the 64th minute, shortly after Yeovil had gone 1-0 up via a penalty.
A subsequent post on Haringey’s official Twitter account said it had been abandoned following racist abuse, and their defender Coby Rowe wrote on his account that he had been a victim.
Achillea told the PA news agency that as well as Rowe receiving racist abuse from the crowd, Haringey goalkeeper Douglas Pajetat was spat on and had a bottle thrown at him.
And the chairman said: “It is soul-destroying because of the effort we’ve put in to encourage so many people from our area, from so many cultures, to come and watch what we have on offer.
“If you look at the make-up of our team, we have six or seven Greek-Cypriots, I’m Greek-Cypriot, the manager is. We have a multitude of West Indians, Africans, Portuguese. We have virtually every nationality as part of the playing squad. And to see them have to be subjected to that, it is soul-destroying.
“Apart from Tom, who is employed at the club to be a manager and a stadium manager, the rest of us are volunteers, and all we want to do is create a football club that the community will be proud of.
“And now what worries me is that we are potentially going to be targeted in the future, because we are not going to escape those who say we walked off because we were losing and made a meal of it. There are people who will be saying that.
“I know it’s not justified – they can’t justify it. The goalkeeper was attacked before the penalty was taken. Whatever else anybody says about what words were used, the goalkeeper was attacked.
“And when you see Coby Rowe, who is the most gentle giant you will ever see, being restrained to stop him going into the crowd, you know something was said to him of an offensive nature.
“So whatever views other people say about whether it was right or wrong to walk off the pitch, I am now firmly in the camp that it was 100 per cent the right thing to do.
“I have to say that before that, I wasn’t. I was always on the standpoint that you set a very dangerous precedent if you start walking off. I think in truth it demonstrated my ignorance in having that view, because until I saw it happen to us yesterday, I didn’t realise how compelling it was that you had to make a stand.”
Achillea added: “I am of the view that we had no choice. We could not carry on and play football yesterday.
“Our players’ heads had gone, there were people with tears in their eyes in the dressing room. These are young kids and they shouldn’t be subjected to that. Ultimately the impact upon them was such that they couldn’t carry on and play football, because it’s gone beyond football.”
Achillea said a “very small minority” had “tarnished the name of Yeovil”.
Our players' heads had gone, there were people with tears in their eyes in the dressing room.
- Aki Achillea
He said: “I’m really, really disappointed for the way it worked out for all of us…to have it wrecked by what was definitely a very small minority of people who attach themselves to the club and call themselves fans. But they’re not the real Yeovil fans, we know that.
“A lot of them spoke to us immediately after the game and sympathised with us, and effectively congratulated us on taking the stand we did. Their management, their chairman, their players, they were a credit to the club – it’s this small minority that have tarnished the name of Yeovil.”
The Football Association has launched an investigation, with the Metropolitan Police also looking into the allegations, and Yeovil have said they will cooperate with the authorities.
Achillea added: “I know they have started a police investigation and that witness statements have been taken by our players. We need to try to collate all the footage there is. The FA have to conduct their investigation, they have to hear from all parties.
“I’m not going to offer them a suggestion as to how they deal with it. It’s their decision, not mine.
“We took a decision yesterday regardless of the consequences. So if the decision is ultimately to throw us out of the competition, then we’ll take that on the chin and move on.
“It’s ruined everything for me, as chairman, in terms of the FA Cup dreams. The (first round) draw is tomorrow and it’s very hollow. We’re in that draw but I’m not excited by the draw at all.
“I don’t feel anything about tomorrow’s draw now to be honest with you, until this is resolved one way or the other – a decision is made as to whether we are still in it, whether we replay it, whether we’re not in it. That’s in the hands of others and then we’ll have another look at where we stand.”
England forward Raheem Sterling retweeted a news report about the Haringey players walking off and posted the message “more of this”, accompanied by two hands clapping emojis.
Tyrone Mings, targeted in Bulgaria on what was his England debut, also expressed his support, tweeting: “Well done for taking a stance, sometimes it can get brushed off in lower leagues but everyone stands with you. Our country isn’t perfect either.”