The Duke of Cambridge has said he is “fed up” with racism in football and said recent incidents had given the impression that progress on the issue was being reversed.
Speaking on a visit to Hendon football club in north London, Prince William said racist abuse directed at Chelsea’s Tammy Abraham and Romelu Lukaku, who plays for Inter Milan, was “outrageous”.
William, who is president of the Football Association, met staff, coaches and fans at the non-league club on Friday to learn about their mental health outreach activities.
During a conversation with coaches, he highlighted how abuse might be a difficult issue for players to discuss and said racism needed to be tackled.
“People are now talking a little bit about mental health issues but I imagine talking about racism is still quite a difficult subject, especially when it’s happening in such a public fashion with Premier League matches or [in the] Champions League. We’ve got to do something about it. I’m fed up with it. I’m so bored of it,” William said.
Despite saying it felt as though the issue had been brought under control, the prince said recent incidents of abuse had made it feel as though “we’re back there”.
Hendon, who play in the Southern League Premier Division South – the seventh tier of English football – work in partnership with the Brent early intervention service to provide access to the club’s training facilities to people facing mental health challenges.
A group of young people have formed the Hendon mental health team and take part in tailored weekly training sessions at the club.
While a match went on in the background, William spoke to some of the young men who had benefited from the initiative.
Jermaine, 24, a local hospital inpatient, said there had been a “big change” in his wellbeing since becoming involved with the programme. “I’ve developed a lot physically, mentally and emotionally,” he said. “It’s made me more stable and given me more courage to succeed in what I want to do.”
The prince’s visit is part of efforts to promote the Heads Up campaign, a joint initiative from the FA and the Heads Together charity, which seeks to raise awareness and encourage conversations around mental health, particularly among men.
William said: “Heads Up is about mental health but we are going to start doing stuff on racism as well because it is affecting mental health. Not just the players, but also fans.”
Darren Smith, who uses Hendon’s facilities to run education programmes from the University Campus of Football Business (UCFB), said racism was a huge issue in football.
“It went quiet, but it never went away,” he said, highlighting the way in which some perpetrators of abuse use anonymous social media accounts to “not be accountable”.
He added: “It can’t go untouched, we need to do something about it, because football should be for all, and for certain groups to feel they are not welcome is not right. It has an impact not only on mental health but the aspirations of our young people.”
Asked if he felt the prince took tackling the issue seriously, he said: “It sounds like he wants to take it further, which is great – we need more public figures, people with power or positions, to take it forward.”