Lyle Taylor’s blood is boiling. The striker, who says he has been racially abused six or seven times throughout a career that has taken him from Concord Rangers in the Isthmian Division One North to Charlton Athletic in the Championship, is disillusioned and exasperated at football’s failure to truly tackle the discrimination that continues to pollute the game. Hearing Taylor question whether anything has changed since Raheem Sterling was abused by a Chelsea fan in December and recount the racial slurs he has suffered, from being called “a coon” while playing for Falkirk to being sent banana and monkey emojis on social media, makes difficult but necessary listening.
The first half of this interview revolves around the reasons the 29-year-old has dyed his hair neon pink, raising more than £30,000 for Cancer Research UK, but Taylor speaks so candidly and passionately about racism, it is impossible to ignore. Taylor is searingly honest as he reflects on the depressing predictability with which the issue of racial abuse has punctuated and marred matches over the past fortnight, leading to an England game twice being halted in Bulgaria, a fan being ejected from Old Trafford, Haringey Borough walking off the pitch and Bristol City, Hearts and Northampton prompting investigations into alleged racism at their games.
“I feel that nothing is actually being done,” Taylor says. “It’s almost like this stuff happens, we talk about it for five minutes and then the next thing you know it’s kind of brushed under the carpet. Then it happens again a week later and then we talk about it again. And then they come up with some stupid hashtag that goes out on social media, whereby ‘this is going to change the world’ but we’re not going to change the world with a stupid hashtag, I’m sorry. They have to now start going: ‘Do you know what, we’re not accepting this.’
“We live in a world where there are a billion different skin colors and religions and all of these things, and yet we have still got racism. It’s all well and good as England standing there going: ‘We’re up on our high horse, the Bulgarians are disgusting, they can’t do that, they can’t make monkey noises’ but it’s happening in this country. It’s not like this country is completely devoid of racism. It’s not. It’s happening in all leagues and at all levels in this country. So let’s not get into a debate about what needs to happen in Europe and this part of the world or that part of the world. We have to clean our own house.
“You’ve got the idiot who was manager of the Bulgaria national team saying ‘I didn’t hear it.’ Bollocks, you did hear it. Everyone heard it. You could hear it on the TV. You’ve then got the [Bulgarian] federation saying ‘well, we’re doing everything we can.’ No, you’re not. And then you’ve got the bloke who runs the FA here [Greg Clarke] pandering to Uefa, saying ‘but they are trying really hard.’ No they are not. They are not trying really hard. They are not trying hard enough. Do more. It’s unacceptable. I should never go on to a football pitch waiting to be racially abused. No footballer on this planet should.”
Last season, Taylor was abused following a League One match in February against AFC Wimbledon, his former club, and on Twitter in March after he scored the winning goal against Bradford City. Taylor was sent a series of banana emojis from an account that was later deleted. “It’s so easy to hide behind fake names and this and that,” says Taylor. “Why don’t we stop people from signing up to social media platforms unless they have an [associated] passport or unless they have a driving licence? On top of that, the social media platforms have to take responsibility for it. They are basically giving someone a gun for somebody to put a bullet in and shoot that gun. If they are not going to stop or make these people accountable, then who’s going to do it? They are making billions of pounds off of us using their platforms but they don’t want to put any money into actually making this right.”
Taylor acknowledges racism is a societal issue and “everyone’s problem” but much of his frustration lies with the key stakeholders, who he argues do not take racism seriously enough below the glitz and glamour of England’s top flight. “They don’t care what happens outside of the Premier League, because the Premier League is where the money is. But what’s actually changed since Raheem Sterling got racially abused by the Chelsea fan? Nothing. Every week there’s a new story. Every damn week. Between now and Monday night, when all of the fixtures have been played across the country, we will hear another story and it will be the same old nonsense: ‘We are going to do something, we need to kick it out.’ Whatever, I don’t want to hear you talking about ‘we need to kick it out’, we need to actually kick it out and do something about it. It’s boring now. It’s past the point of it even being lip service.”
The more heartening story is undoubtedly the impact Taylor has had as a result of dying his hair pink for the second October running in aid of a cause close to his heart; almost two years ago his aunt, Lisa, died of breast cancer and three of his four grandparents have either had or live with cancer. Last year Taylor, who plans to visit Cancer Research UK’s laboratory near Westminster, raised more than £16,000 and this year he has raised £14,000 and counting. Last weekend the Valley was a sea of pink, with one sponsor turning their advertising hoardings rose and supporters following suit; one dressed as a pink power ranger.
Taylor, sidelined because of a knee injury, signed autographs in the club shop, where all profits from pink posters, wristbands and mugs went to charity. “I’ve been promoted from League Two, I’ve been promoted from League One, I’ve scored some very important goals, I’ve been lucky enough to score a hat-trick and take home the match ball and all of these things, but nothing will be able to beat the fact that I’ve been able to influence people in a good way and kind of get people out of their shells and out of their skins. I’m proud of everything I’ve done in football but I’m even more proud I’ve been able to do something better and bigger.”
As for Charlton, who visit Bristol City on Wednesday, Taylor is looking forward to getting back on the pitch. He has scored in seven of the top eight tiers in the country, a record that dates back to playing for Danny Cowley at Concord before being signed by Eddie Howe at Bournemouth and, with Charlton seventh under Lee Bowyer following promotion last season, Taylor is thinking big. “If I got the chance to score a goal in the Premier League, I would say I’ve done everything and much, much more than I ever dreamed I would do. I was told I wasn’t good enough to play professionally and I’m now in my 10th season, so I’ve already won that battle. My career has been kind of based on proving people wrong so I’m waiting for someone to tell me I can’t do it so that I can prove them wrong.”