Former football stars tackle online hate in Belfast ahead of Uefa Super Cup
All eyes in the footballing world will be focused on Windsor Park tomorrow as the national stadium plays host to the Uefa Super Cup.
Champions League winners Chelsea face Manchester United’s Europa League conquerors Villarreal in tomorrow evening’s showpiece.
Windsor Park will be at 70% capacity which will mean 13,000 spectators – the biggest attendance at a sporting event in the Province since lockdown came into force in March 2020.
IFA president Patrick Nelson said the game would be a great advert for Northern Ireland: “This is the season kick-off as far as Uefa are concerned. It doesn’t get any bigger for us.”
Former Chelsea star Joe Cole, who is in Northern Ireland in his BT Sport role, said Belfast was a beautiful city and a fitting host for the occasion.
The midfielder, who was capped 56-times for England, said he’d good memories of being in NI: “I’ve been here playing football a few times. With BT Sport we filmed a documentary about George Best so I went to the Cregagh Road where he grew up, we went up to the parliament at Stormont as well.
“I’d like to get the Giant’s Causeway this time round if our schedule allows me to.”
During this visit, Joe, along with former England, Spurs and Chelsea star Glenn Hoddle, took on the roles of coaches to two teams of young people from community projects across Northern Ireland as part of BT Sport’s Hope United – a campaign to beat online hate.
A quick online search for ‘Joe Cole Northern Ireland’ reveals footage of Joe Cole, scoring then passionately celebrating a goal for West Ham Under 14s at the Milk Cup: “That’s what it means to me. It’s the same as playing professional, even if I’m playing now that competitiveness would still be there.”
Looking ahead to the game between Chelsea and Villareal, he said: “It’s a spectacle this game – it’s a real occasion, an event that’s taking place in a beautiful city.”
Looking beyond the game to the season ahead for Chelsea, he said: “I think Lukaku is the final piece in the jigsaw. I don’t think he’ll be playing here in Belfast, but he’s a great signing.”
Joe was signed for Chelsea by Claudio Ranieri, who came incredibly close to winning the title with Chelsea. It was to be Leicester that Ranieri eventually won the Premier League with in the memorable 2015/16 season.
The 39-year-old said: “I was so happy for him. He’s such a nice fella. What he did at Leicester will be remembered forever. He set the foundations for more success.”
Joe was the manager of one of the teams of young people from Northern Ireland who took part in a game today at Crusaders FC’s Seaview home to raise in order to raise awareness about the impact on online hate in sport among young people.
The other boss, Glenn Hoddle, said the last time he was in Northern Ireland he was playing for England at Windsor Park, likely to have been 1983.
He said he son-in-law is from Belfast and his daughter comes over regularly.
Glenn said: “I haven’t been for a long time but it’s nice to be back. The Irish people are just lovely whether it’s Southern, whether it’s Northern – they’re the loveliest people in the world.”
Glenn, a ex-player/manager of Chelsea predicted the London side would win tomorrow night but said the game was just as important as a training exercise: “The result is always important, players want to win, but it’s not the be all and end all.
“With my manager’s head on it’s about the shape and the foundations and the fitness. You keep your fingers crossed and hope you don’t get a major injury.”
Looking to the season ahead the 63-year-old predicted Man City would win the league again with Chelsea as their nearest challengers.
Children to carry Unite Against Hate banner
Tomorrow’s UEFA Super Cup between Chelsea and Villarreal will use the opening ceremony to raise awareness about online hate in sport and among young people.
During the pre-match ceremony, children selected by the Irish FA foundation and Rio Ferdinand foundation will carry a Unite Against Hate banner and read a message of hope promoting respect and solidarity online.
England and Manchester United star Rio Ferdinand said: “My work, both on and off the pitch, has taught me that there is no hiding place from social media abuse.
“Passions run high during big football tournaments and having seen the devastating effect that can result from online hate first-hand, it is more important than ever that sport unites to combat it.”
Fellow BT pundit Joe Cole said: “It’s important we use our platform as a broadcaster and also as footballers in the media to do this.
“Online sometimes brings out the worst in our nature but let’s turn that round. If you can spread hate you can spread love and appreciation just as easily.
“This is a new era with this technolocgy, we need to use it mindfully and better.”
Glenn Hoddle, who is also on the BT Sport team for the Super Cup, said: “It’s not going to happen overnight. It’s a minority of people, but they need to be eventually educated.
“One day hope will overcome hate, we’ve got to keep nibbling away and everyone will be on the same page. It’s events like this that will do it.”
Eniola and Niamh: online abuse is not okay
BT Sport presenter and former England player Eniola Aluko was at Seaview today to pass on some advice to young players taking part in the BT Hope United match to fight online hate.
She said: “For me it’s really about controlling your intake of social media until we get to a point where people are more accountable for what they do and what they say on social media.
“I deleted Twitter about a month ago now and I’ve never felt better. I don’t see negativity, I don’t feel negative energy. There’s times when I’ve had abuse on social media and I can’t sleep, I can’t eat – it’s not worth it. So I deleted it and now I feel much healthier for it.”
She said: “It’s really important that we put in place tools and an understanding of how to behave on social media. Part of it is accountability so that people think twice about what they post, think about the consequences. If you go out on the street and say bad things about people you might get arrested, but you can do it anonymously online.
“I love events and organisations and campaigns like this because I think you really do bring people together from all different backgrounds, putting aside division and conflict. It’s not just racism, there’s sectarianism, there’s sexism, there’s anti-Semitism, there’s homophobia. All of that is really important for us to eradicate.
“If we can make sure that we’re standing against that message through football, it’s just so important. I will always want to be a part of those things. As a black woman football has allowed me to meet people who I never would have met before. That’s the power of football.”
Hope United, a campaign launched by BT, brings together a diverse team of footballers from across the UK with the aim of driving change by giving digital skills to people on how to protect themselves and others online.
The match at Seaview yesterday involved 14 to 17-year-olds from community projects across NI that are helping to bridge the sectarian divide and care for refugees who have settled here.
Organised by the Irish FA, the game was treated like a professional match, presented by Eniola along with Rio Ferdinand, with Darren Fletcher and Steve McManaman in the commentary booth. The match features in a Hope United documentary that will be broadcast ahead of the Super Cup.
Niamh Coyle, 16, who played in the game, said: “I have friends who’ve experienced abuse and I’ve helped them through it, making sure they know online abuse is not okay and to just keep playing football. Playing in this match has been really special to me and I hope I can achieve my aim to play for Northern Ireland’s women’s team one day.”
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