Arsenal midfielder Ainsley Maitland-Niles hailed Raheem Sterling as “brave” for speaking out about racial abuse and claims he suffered from a similar incident as a 12-year-old.
Sterling was subjected to alleged racial abuse during Manchester City’s Premier League defeat at Chelsea on Saturday.
The player later issued a statement accusing the media of fuelling racism in the way it reports certain stories about black players.
The incident has again moved the debate over the task of tackling the issue in football back into the spotlight – with Maitland-Niles revealing his own experiences of racism.
Asked if he has been on the receiving end of racist abuse, the 21-year-old replied: “Yes, I have. Not at a professional level, but growing up in the youth ranks.
“I think it’s disgusting, honestly. I really do credit Raheem for coming out and standing up for himself and other players and speaking about it.
“But, I just think that if a lot of football clubs and some of the players too can join forces to really put our heads to it and try to kick it out, it would be the best thing possible.
“I hope so. I really do hope so,” Maitland-Niles continued when asked if Sterling making a public statement could be a defining moment in eradicating racism.
“Raheem is a good, brave lad for doing it and I just hope that more people put their ear towards him and have some sympathy for him, because it’s not the first time it’s happened and we just want it to be the last.”
An England Under-21 international, Maitland-Niles went on to explain the circumstances surrounding his own alleged encounter with racism during his time in Arsenal’s academy.
“It was pretty much similar to what Raheem got to be honest,” he said.
“I literally went out to pick up the ball for a throw-in and there was a bit of racial abuse behind me.
“What can I do? I just got on with the game, as he did. It hurts. It hurts me to talk about it.
“It hurts to think about it. But I think that’s why it’s so important that we need to get rid of it from the game.
“It’s not just footballers who need to be on board with it. It’s everyone else: the press, the media and the staff as well.
“To me, responding to it is scoring a goal to put their team down. I only thought they were doing it because I was having a good game.
“I guess that’s one way of them sort of trying to knock me off my game and make me feel uncomfortable about myself. But to be honest, I just try and play my football and not really say much about anything.”
Maitland-Niles revealed he informed the relevant football authorities of the incident at the time, but that “nothing was done about it” and it was his father who offered support.
“At the time, I just spoke to my dad about it and he did sort of give me the heads up and showed me a few things about racism before my time, when I was playing football, just as there still is in the game now,” he added.
“As we’ve seen, from Raheem Sterling coming out to speak, so like I said before, I think we just really need to put our heads to it and get it cut out as soon as possible.”
A week before Sterling’s incident at Stamford Bridge, Arsenal striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang had a banana skin thrown in his direction as he celebrated in front of Tottenham supporters after opening the scoring in the north London derby.
A Spurs fan was arrested at the time, while four Chelsea supporters have been suspended by the club pending an investigation into Saturday’s incident involving Sterling.