Lipa Nessa details horrific racial abuse suffered at grassroots level
Nessa on effect of racist abuse: "Every time I put the kit on, I just didn't feel comfortable [anymore]. Every time my mum used to drop me off at training, I'd say 'I don't want to go'. Anxiety used to fill my head and I just didn't want to step onto the pitch"
By Dev Trehan and Dharmesh Sheth
Last Updated: 29/08/19 3:18pm
Sports activist Lipa Nessa admits she is still scarred by the racial abuse she received from parents of opposition players in her first match for her local football team.
Aged just 16, Nessa was subjected to horrific abuse from the touchline as she made her debut for the team on what should have been one of the most memorable days of her life.
"Every time I got the ball, the opposition players' parents booed me," Nessa told Sky Sports News.
"I thought they were just jealous because I've got a lot of tricks [on the football pitch]. That's what I instantly thought - you don't think so negatively.
"And then they started making aeroplane noises (an indirect reference to the 9/11 terror attacks). I wasn't able to put one and one together [and realise what they were doing and why]. It was really hard for me to process that.
"But then afterwards, I realised they were making those noises because of the way that I looked. I was the only person of colour on that pitch and I was the only person of colour on my team at the time.
"I think the booing and the aeroplane noises were [from] the majority [of the parents], so the minority didn't say anything.
"It was from the parents, not the players, but the parents. The players were so nice. They shook my hand at the end and they even apologised.
"The referee didn't stop the game and I don't think they really knew what the next action should be, but I think they should have been educated in that aspect.
"My coach didn't know what to do. He didn't know how to deal with that situation and again that's why education for individuals, coaches and referees is so important."
'Psychologically, I was so screwed'
Nessa said the incident was the trigger for her to forsake her dream of trying to forge a career as a footballer and ultimately led to her deciding to stop playing the game altogether.
"I didn't want to play for the team anymore, so I spoke to the coach and I was like 'I can't wear this badge anymore because I can't perform well'.
"And then every time I put the kit on, I just didn't feel comfortable. Every time my mum used to drop me off at training, I'd say 'Mum, I don't want to go'.
"Anxiety used to fill my head and I just didn't want to step on to the pitch or anywhere with that badge on, because I associated that badge with that whole scenario.
"Even when I went to university and I had to join a new team, I was so scared because of what happened and psychologically I was so screwed. I think I should have gotten help at the time but I didn't know where help was."
A refreshing change
Despite hanging up her boots, 21-year-old Nessa remains heavily involved in football. Nessa is a Youth Sport Trust Ambassador and is part of the Football Association's Leadership Academy, representing the Middlesex FA.
The UCFB Wembley graduate also worked at the Women's World Cup in France this year and has co-founded a podcast with Fadumo Olow called 'I Think She's Offside'.
"Now I'm getting opportunities and before, I never got that," she said.
"It's nice to see there is a space for people like myself to get into the sports industry as a coach or as a person in journalism. It's refreshing compared to what I've experienced before, it's so nice to see and is absolutely overwhelming."