‘That could have been me,’ Elgin City striker Smart Osadolor opens heart about U.S. killings, Black Lives Matter & experiences of prejudice

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SMART OSADOLOR watched the horrific footage of George Floyd’s murder and had one harrowing thought: it could have been me.

So when the call came to hit the streets of Glasgow in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, he didn’t hesitate.

There was no way Osadolor was going to tell future generations that he was locked at home during this moment in history.

Movement: Osadolor, R, protests alongside his friend Kevin Onanu

In his own words, ‘Covid-19 is a pandemic, but so is racism’ – and the is adamant this is a tipping point when society is ready to say ‘enough is enough’.

The Elgin City striker said: “If you watch a man murdered by a police officer pushing their knee down on his neck for eight minutes and aren’t inspired to take action, something is wrong.

“You need to stand up for what is right. Why is it okay to bring people down because of the colour of their skin? It gets to the stage where enough is enough.

“If someone said to me ‘Smart, you are going to catch the coronavirus and die’, I’d accept that. It’s how important that day was to me.

“People have fought and died for the right to march peacefully and I wasn’t going to tell future generations that I was sitting in the house when the time came for our voices to be heard.”

The deaths of Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery ignited vociferous protests in the United States, with the subject of police brutality being placed under a microscope.

Aside from the obvious trauma of the video, Osadolor was chilled as he considered his own recollections of life in America.

He studied at Tiffin University, near Cleveland, Ohio. He excelled in sports, becoming one of the most highly-rated young soccer stars in the state and graduated from his MBA in General Management in the top 10 per cent.

While he has fond memories of those experiences, he also witnessed police profiling and insidious injustice.

He says starkly: “I know for a fact, that [Floyd] could have been me. It could have been my friends. It could be my cousins or my uncle who lives in America. So this stuff hits home really hard.

“I just ask anyone to put themselves in a black person’s shoes for five minutes.

Support: A statement from Osadolor’s club, Elgin City

“You might see profiling and police brutality on the TV and think ‘don’t believe everything you see in the media’, but when I was over there a few of my friends got arrested over something stupid.

“Two of them were black, two of them were white. My black friends got charged that night. They had to pay a fine, it went on their record – and a few years down the line it was tougher for them to get good jobs.

“It becomes ‘that black guy is a trouble-maker’.

“The white guys got a slap on the wrist and let go. It was the exact same offence. This stuff is systematic and affects everything. The fight isn’t about wanting things easier, it’s about wanting a level playing field.”

The BLM movement swiftly spread across the globe, with countries forced to examine their own modern-day, and historic, prejudices. Scotland, as much as Osadolor adores his adopted nation, cannot be immune from introspection.

Born in Nigeria, he moved to London at 10 years of age before uprooting again to Glasgow – and it was north of the border where he first encountered the blight of bigotry.

He adds: “I feel sad to say this, but it is the truth – I didn’t know what racism was until I came to Scotland.

“I got into fights in school because I didn’t know how to deal with it.”

That is not a slight on Scotland or his education. Osadolor loves Glasgow and was nurtured and appreciated by teachers at All Saints Secondary School, Barmulloch. However, kids can be cruel and abuse was present.

That sense of otherness has continued to an extent in football.

The former Annan, Albion Rovers and Queen’s Park forward continued: “There have been dressing rooms I have been in where I could feel the hostility – and I didn’t understand why.

“I laugh, I joke, I’ll take stick – but something isn’t right.

“Things are said that can be ‘borderline’ and, unless you are a black player and have experienced prejudice, the other guys might not realise why you would be offended.

“You tell yourself it’s a one-off – then you speak to other black players and they say ‘that happened to me too!’

“I’m almost past the stage of being emotional or angry. I’m tired.

 

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ALBION ROVERS’ appointment of former Scotland under-21 international Kevin Harper was a historic moment. And therein lies the problem, insists Osadolor.

When he was handed the reins at Cliftonhill in November 2018, he became the first BAME manager in Scottish football for more than 15 years. His successful application came after 40 failed ones. He didn’t get so much as a cursory callback for many.

Harper, who boasts a playing pedigree including Hibs, Derby County, Portsmouth and Stoke, made a mockery of those repeated snubs, securing survival for a Rovers side which appeared to be sleepwalking out of the SPFL prior to his arrival in successive seasons.

Rare: Harper impressed during and 18-month stint at Albion Rovers

He departed last month after failing to agree contract terms with Albion but has undoubtedly enhanced his reputation and left Osadolor – who notched eight goals in 31 appearances under Harper – wondering why it took so long for his phone to ring.

More diversity in coaching, management and, ultimately, boardrooms would be a massive step towards rectifying any unconscious bias or prejudices, Osadolor contends

“Getting more representation in coaching would be massive,” Osadolor continues.

“I’m speculating, but if Kevin Harper was white and had achieved what he had – Scotland under-21 caps, playing in the Premier League, a passionate coach – then his phone would have rung long before 2018.

“Let’s look at the evidence; 40 applications before he got an opportunity. Either he must be ridiculously bad, which I can tell you he wasn’t, well under-qualified or there is something wrong with the system.

“Having a coach who maybe knew some of my experiences and what it was like being a black player in Scotland was massive for me.

“Just like when I got a first break at Annan and was vibrant, energetic, happy, when Kevin got his first opportunity with Albion Rovers he was exactly the same. He took over a team that looked like it would get relegated and he managed to keep them up.

“I was ready to run through a brick wall for him because I believed he understood me.”

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