October marks Black History Month, a time where we get to celebrate and recognise the black heroes across the County involved in all levels of the game.
We are proud to use the power of football to help tell the stories of iconic black figures in Lincolnshire, and shine a light on their stories like never before. The next inspirational figure within Lincolnshire's footballing community that we've spoken to is former Lincoln City Women's player and Youth Manager at Lincoln City Foundation, Michelle Ahondjo.
Michelle has been involved in football for over 6 years as a player. She is passionate about the development of young people and believes football is a great tool to develop young people, because it teaches life skills such as discipline and team work. Michelle hopes to start her coaching career soon, and has worked for organisations such as the National Citizen Service, YMCA Lincolnshire and Camp America, whereby she engaged young people through varies sports and activities.
Michelle is also part of the Lincolnshire FA Youth Council to advocate for young people in football to make it as enjoyable as possible.
Michelle plays a big part in grassroots football in Lincolnshire, certainly for young people. However, at just 14 years of age, was on the receiving end of racist abuse whilst enjoying the game that we all love. Michelle has openly spoken to us about this incident, dealing with racism in football, and the importance of representation.
In your eyes, how important is Black History Month in both society and football?
Ultimately the goal of Black History Month is to celebrate people from the black community, and inform people who are not acquainted with the different ways black people live. I hope that Black History Month results in more people having an informed opinion and approach towards black people. I believe Black History Month is paramount to society and football, as it gives people the opportunity to further understand the heritage of the black community and how impactful we have been throughout history.
Racism in recent times has been captured in the game due to modern media. For example, footballers such as Bukayo Saka, Jadon Sancho and Marcus Rashford were subject to racial abuse towards the end of the Euros. Receiving primarily racial abuse because they missed a penalty is not okay. I believe there is no circumstance that racial abuse is warranted especially for not scoring a goal.
Role models are so important for inspiring the next generation, so can you tell us who yours were when growing up?
A footballer that inspired my play growing up was Leicester’s very own Wes Morgan. He was a big part of the succession at Leicester City by commanding the team, in addition to being a reliable captain and quality player. Another inspiration of mine in the game is Marcus Rashford, although he is an outstanding player, I respect him because of the things he has done off the pitch, such as igniting the HAF programme and helping so many young people nationally. For that, he is someone to be admired, as well as producing books for young people about perseverance and allowing them to explore their imagination, giving young people hope and aspiration for the future.
How would you describe the impact that having black coaches, players, etc. can have from grassroots football to elite level?
Having black coaches, and players in the mix can help with representation. I believe having a diverse sporting cohort is paramount for upcoming aspiring coaches and players, as it underlines representation and can be very inspiring if you see someone who looks similar to you in a particular area. It can help to inspire more people of different backgrounds to get involved. A massive reason why I work with young people and play football is to aid as many learners as best as I can in the sport of football, so they can go on to be equipped to do their best. Furthermore, it can also help to break any stigmas and stereotypes around black people.
Racism is still a problem, certainly in elite-level men's football, and we also see it on social media with Wes Foderingham and Destiny Udogie being the latest high-profile targets. Have you faced any challenges as a young black woman? And if so, what do you think needs to be done to deal with these challenges that you've met and the broader issues in football?
When I was 14, I was subject to racial abuse by the opposing teams parents. Their comments likened me to monkeys, gorillas and commenting on my physical stature. The team was fined, and points were taken from them by The FA. I think it can be hard to pinpoint online trolls with fake accounts, however I believe fines and criminal charges should be imposed on spectators shouting abuse, online trolls, and clubs. They should also undergo racial equality courses as some people do not and choose not to respect others.
It's been reported recently about the lack of black coaches and managers within English football, which appears to be a problem. As someone who is a Youth Manager at Lincoln City Foundation as well as a former player at Lincoln City, how does football tackle that issue?
I believe offering out more opportunities for people to get involved in it; ETCs, academies, subsidised or free qualifications for minority groups which I understand is something concurring however, opening that up to a wider scale, more diverse exposure can help too. Additionally, looking at the development of pathways, in coaching and playing, workshops on different races and cultures.
For more information on Black History Month, click here
For more information on getting into coaching, click here
For more information on reporting discrimination, click here
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