Cyrus Christie: ‘We must keep highlighting racism’, says on-loan Swansea City defender

Cyrus Christie will be a free agent when his Fulham contract expires this summer
Cyrus Christie will be a free agent when his Fulham contract expires this summer

Warning – This article contains accounts of racist incidents

The memory of Cyrus Christie’s first day at secondary school remains vivid almost two decades on.

The Republic of Ireland defender, who is on loan at Swansea City from Fulham, was alongside a friend who hailed from Ghana.

“He is still one of my best mates today,” Christie says.

“Everyone was running and they just said, ‘Get the black kid’. He was the darkest one out of us and they went straight for him.

“We grew up fighting racism a lot.”

Christie is now 29. To an extent, he says, nothing has changed.

“It’s progressing at a very slow rate,” Christie adds.

He has had to endure racial abuse at various stages of a career which has featured more than 400 senior appearances for Coventry City, Derby County, Middlesbrough, Fulham, Nottingham Forest and now Swansea, as well as 29 international caps.

But he was all too aware of racism long before his time in football began with Coventry, his home-city club.

“Where I went to school, there were a lot of racist people in and around that area,” he tells BBC Sport Wales.

“We had a few black kids that went to the school and people of different cultures, but it was predominantly white.

“There were a few race wars when we first went there – people coming in from outside the building with weapons and different things.

“We had to come through a lot. Our family members, our parents before us, had to face a lot.

“Coventry now is very multi-cultural. There’s a lot of different races and cultures and it’s definitely changing.

“But there is a lot going now in terms of social media. I think that’s where most of the battle is now.”

Cyrus Christie made his Republic of Ireland debut in 2014
Cyrus Christie made his Republic of Ireland debut in 2014

Online abuse is a major issue for football, with a string of players targeted in the last couple of years.

Swansea, the club Christie joined on loan for the rest of the season in January, held a social media blackout last April after Yan Dhanda, Ben Cabango and Jamal Lowe – who is now at Bournemouth – were sent racist messages.

Christie has suffered “many cases” of abuse, whether playing club football or for the Republic of Ireland.

“There was a phase where I was getting five or 10 messages pretty much after every game,” he says.

“It’s not so much that it’s aimed at me, it’s that your family see it, your little cousins see it and get upset.

“There was one where someone was sending me pictures of black people hanging from a tree.

“He was saying it’s me and my family next – he was going to kill me. I am thick-skinned. It’s kind of like yeah, okay, whatever.

“But for other people, they feel a lot more threatened. They might not have encountered any racism in their life and won’t know how to deal with it.”

Christie agrees with the suggestion, made by numerous footballing figures in recent times, that social media companies must do more to combat the abuse.

“People now can just jump on to any platform and abuse who they want,” he says.

“You see some of the people and it’s grown men with kids. Some of them are old enough to be my dad. That’s quite sad, embarrassing.”

Christie, who was named on the Football Black List in 2021, feels it is vital for footballers to speak out about racism.

“When you bring it up, it’s always, ‘Why are you bringing it up?’. But if you don’t bring it up, the issues will stay,” he says.

“We have to keep highlighting the issues.

“It’s not just the people of different races. It’s the white players as well who are bringing it up. They have been in certain situations.

“I think sometimes the white person’s voice on racism is a lot more powerful than mine because, weird as it sounds, people will listen to them more, even though they have never been through it.”

Cyrus Christie's goal against Bristol City was his first since June 2020
Cyrus Christie’s goal against Bristol City earlier this month was his first since June 2020

Christie is a footballer who is determined to use his profile to make a mark away from the pitch.

He has worked extensively with Football Beyond Borders, a charity which aims to help people from disadvantaged backgrounds, and the Brixton Soup Kitchen.

In 2020, he set up the Cyrus Christie Foundation, which he funds out of his own pocket with the aim of creating “positive social change” in Coventry.

The idea is to give youngsters the chance to “reach their goals”, whether they are in sport or any other industry.

“If somebody wants to become a musician, we would pay for their studio time,” Christie explains.

“It could be anything – it’s to help people find their path in life. If we can play a little part in helping people achieve what they want to achieve, it gives us a great feeling.”

Based in London but living in south Wales during his loan spell at Swansea, Christie has been home to Coventry more often than anticipated in recent weeks.

The visits were to see his grandmother, Havelin, who passed away earlier this month.

When Christie scored his first goal in 20 months to help Swansea to victory over Bristol City, he pointed to the skies in tribute to a woman who had been a major influence in his life.

Cyrus Christie points to the sky in tribute to his grandmother
Cyrus Christie points to the sky in tribute to his grandmother

“She was a great human being,” he says.

“She had a tough time coming over from Jamaica – to Leicester first, then Coventry. They were the only black family there.

“She was a big rock, a hub for the family. She will be a big miss.”

Havelin Christie will remain in her grandson’s thoughts, whether his focus is on football, his foundation or the fight against racism.

“I think everyone can make a difference, whether that’s 1%, 10% – whatever it might be,” he says.

“If more people come to the forefront, things will change for the better.”

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