'How can you understand?': Glentoran's Elvio van Overbeek calls on fans to help tackle racist abuse
Glentoran winger Elvio van Overbeek has revealed he suffered racial abuse as a young player in Holland and he hopes respectful fans around the world can help stamp out the problem.
There has been widespread criticism of football authorities over a failure to hand out suitable punishments for racist incidents and Van Overbeek knows how it feels to be on the receiving end of such abuse.
Bulgaria were hit with a two-match stadium ban, one of which is suspended for two years, and a £64,650 fine by Uefa this week following racist abuse from their fans towards England players in a European Qualifier.
But several commentators, including Kick It Out and Football Against Racism in Europe (FARE), promptly criticised the ruling as too lenient.
Angola-born Van Overbeek (25), a former Netherlands Under-21 international winger, says he was shocked by the incident that occurred when he was a teenager.
"I have experienced racism since my younger days," said the former PSV Eindhoven youngster, who has not experienced racial abuse since arriving in Northern Ireland in August.
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"It started when I was a young teenager playing for PSV against Feyenoord.
"We were much better than them and one of the fathers of their players starting swearing and making racist comments.
"My coach was angry about it and he wanted to stop the game, but you cannot change anyone and I won't let that affect me."
Van Overbeek added: “I was only 15 and that was the worst incident, although I have heard other comments in Holland.
“In their team they had players who were black, so how can you understand what was said?
“I have strong faith, and I’m a strong enough character not to let people get me angry over something like that.”
Former Manchester United defender Gary Neville has suggested that football players should walk off the pitch when subjected to racism because football authorities are not punishing offences correctly.
Van Overbeek, however, believes it’s important that those who are guilty of the abuse are confronted and he hopes decent supporters can play their part.
“What can you do about it?” added the winger, who played for Go Ahead Eagles, De Graafschap and Telstar in Holland.
“We are in 2019, it’s not 1998, and it’s difficult to understand why anyone would behave like that.
“Look around and you’ll see we all live together.
“I think supporters, the decent fans, can come together and stop any abuse from happening.
“We have seen that happen in Holland. The supporters have been man enough to say we are not going to tolerate that behaviour and you are not one of us.
“Walking off the pitch seems to me like a run-away reaction. The abusers might want that, but why should we all suffer? I will not run away, I will play on and not be so emotional about it but people are different.”
Queens Park Rangers’ Under-18 team walked off the pitch during a friendly against Spanish side AD Nervion in August after suffering alleged abuse from opposition players, but the club are still awaiting a decision from Fifa on the incident.
Former Fifa vice-president Jim Boyce this week added his voice to calls for football’s rulers to issue tougher penalties following racist incidents.
He stated: “My own personal feeling is that after three warnings for racism the stadium should be closed for a minimum of three matches to the home supporters.”