Watford’s Andre Gray: ‘It’s not just about George Floyd – we are still stereotyped and judged by police here’ | Football

It is a simple point but one Andre Gray wants to make, lest anyone in the United Kingdom has failed to grasp it. The marches and protests that have swept the major cities in recent days have not only been about George Floyd, the unarmed black man who died at the hands of a white police officer in Minneapolis on the Monday before last – or, more precisely, his left knee, when it was applied with remorseless force to the side of Floyd’s neck during an arrest.

This is not only about police brutality in the United States, however appalling that is, however grotesque the death toll, and it is not something that is just happening over there. This is about something on our shores and, indeed, everywhere else, deeply pernicious and to listen to Gray, the Watford striker who is preparing for a return to Premier League action the week after next, is to listen to a man trying to process a range of emotions, all of them uncomfortable.

“There are ignorant people that don’t understand what we are marching and protesting about,” Gray says. “It’s not just about George Floyd and the brutality that is going on in America. It is about what is going on in England and the rest of the world. I feel we are lucky we don’t have armed police officers on the street because we are still stereotyped and judged by these police officers over here, just the same [as in the US].

“I can’t even count how many times I’ve been pulled over. I can’t count how many times I’ve gone to a club and not got in, how many times a security guard has followed me round a shop. I can’t count how many times that somebody has asked me if I’m a footballer because I’ve come out of a nice car. Look, at the end of the day, I’m three people in this country. And that’s either a footballer, a rapper or a drug dealer. These are the facts.

A Black Lives Matter demonstration in Trafalgar Square on 31 May

A Black Lives Matter demonstration in Trafalgar Square on 31 May, in the wake of the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Photograph: Hollie Adams/Getty Images

“So the marches over here are not just for the police brutality in America – it’s for England, as well. And Paris and all over the world. It’s because of the systematic racism that is everywhere.”

Gray describes himself as “angry, frustrated, disappointed” as he considers Floyd’s death. His tone is measured, even if it feels as though he might want to scream. But one of the shocking things is that he is not shocked at all.

Gray is a student of black American history, the subject has fascinated him for some years and the story of how he has tattooed the entirety of his back with images of famous figures has been well told. In no particular order, there is Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, Marcus Garvey, Rosa Parks, Huey Newton, the Black Panthers, Muhammad Ali, Bob Marley, Tommie Smith and John Carlos. Gray knows how it was for previous generations of black people and a sense of resignation runs through his words.

Rosa Parks, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Bob Marley and Nelson Mandela tattooed on Andre Gray’s back

Rosa Parks, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Bob Marley and Nelson Mandela are among the people tattooed on Andre Gray’s back. Photograph: Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

“It’s just a shame it’s taken so long for people to wake up and see this because it’s been happening for how many years now?” Gray says. “For over 400 years, so it’s nothing new. For me, it’s strange as to why this particular one [Floyd’s death] has raised so much voice because we’ve been watching videos like this for years and years and years.

“It wasn’t something I’m not used to seeing, which is pretty sad to say. It’s maybe more disturbing for other people but for me and a lot of black people, it’s become a normal thing to see.

“It’s the harsh reality of what our ancestors, our grandparents, our parents and now us have had to deal with. It’s not just now and it frustrates me that people are speaking about it now because everyone knows the history of it all, everyone has been seeing what’s been going on. It’s not something that’s just randomly happened. It’s been going on for years. And it’s not just the brutality of it, it’s the systemic part of it, the institutionalised part of it.”

Andre Gray celebrates scoring for Watford against Norwich in November.

Andre Gray celebrates scoring for Watford against Norwich in November. Photograph: Joe Toth/BPI/Shutterstock

Gray has read the comments of other black footballers in the wake of Floyd’s death. Nedum Onuoha, the former England Under-21s defender who plays for Real Salt Lake, and DeAndre Yedlin, Newcastle’s USA international, have said the States is not a safe place for young, black men.

“I’ve been to America plenty of times and I feel exactly how they feel,” Gray says. “There’s a feeling in the air. When I go to America, I’m fortunate enough to stay in the nicer areas but the last time I went there – to New York last October, November – I went and explored. I went to the rough areas – to Brooklyn, Harlem, the Bronx; I walked around and you see it first-hand, what life is like out there.

“The deeper you go into it [these areas], the more black people you start to see and you start to see the white people filter out. Even when you’re on the train … every stop, you see the white people get off and then, by the time you get to these areas, the train is just full of black people. They are just left there. It’s as if they have just completely segregated it. Actually, it’s not as if. That’s what they have done. It’s a segregation. It is another eye-opener for me.”

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This is not only about America. Gray sees inherent division in British society and his view makes for difficult reading. For him, it is epitomised by one thing “The Brexit thing says it all. It’s all to do with immigration and the people that have voted to leave the EU … for me, it’s because of racism, because they don’t want people coming into our country. It frustrates me because if you see some of the places these people are coming from, these other countries, it [the situation there] is a lot worse and we are supposed to be a country of freedom, as is America. So that just proves to me how bad the racism is – because they’ve had enough of immigrants. It’s just a nail in the coffin.”

What is there to do? Gray talks of the need to “keep protesting and protesting and protesting until things change”, to keep the Black Lives Matter movement at the top of the news agenda.

“It annoyed me to see the whole Madeleine McCann thing come out and try and take away what is going on out there,” Gray says, with reference to how the story of the missing girl has returned to the front pages after the identification of a suspect. “That’s no disrespect to that little girl and her family. But to me it seemed to be trying to brush aside what is really going on in the Black Lives Matter protest.

“Is it because she’s a white girl? Yes. That’s the facts. What people are not seeming to understand at the minute is these are the things that are happening. This is where it goes beyond the blatant racism we are seeing and the videos [of police brutality] and whatever. This is stuff that really hurts people, as well.

Jadon Sancho celebrates scoring for Borussia Dortmund against Paderborn by revealing a ‘Justice for George Floyd’ undershirt

Jadon Sancho celebrates scoring for Borussia Dortmund against Paderborn by revealing a ‘Justice for George Floyd’ undershirt. Photograph: Lars Baron/AP

“Things have to change. It’s at a point now where … what is it going to take? People are complaining about the protests, they’ve always got something to say but they don’t understand how we feel. They don’t get it. All they want to say is: ‘No, all lives matter,’ but this is not the point. We are fighting because black lives don’t matter. That is as simple as it is.

“It’s easy for a white person to think we have got it good or whatever but we don’t because you’re not the person that’s getting pulled over by the police, you are not the person that is getting judged by what you wear and how you look. You are not the person that has to pick and choose where you go, what countries you go to because of things like this. They will never get it. That is the ignorance of it.”

Gray hopes to see gestures of support from players during Premier League matches, as has happened in the Bundesliga. “But I don’t want it just to be a phase – it needs to be for ever,” Gray says. “Racism has been in football since football started, it’s never going away, it’s never got better. It’s just noticed more because everything is on TV, everything is magnified.

“So I hope players take a stand and I hope this is more than just wearing a T-shirt of Kick It Out. That hasn’t worked before and it’s not going to work now. We need to push and have a stronger stand on it.”

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