To Russia, With Love

Peter Odemwingie’s £2million summer move from Lokomtiv Moscow to West Bromwich Albion has attracted a little more attention than it normally would.

Afterall, he’s not the first much travelled striker to sign for the Baggies and he probably won’t be the last, but the aftermath of the Nigerian’s switch to the Premiership shows how far football still has to go to stamp the issue of racism out of the game.

His departure from Lokomotiv this summer sparked celebrations from fans in the Russian capital who were less than discreet about their feelings, revealing a banner depicting a banana and the words “Thanks West Brom” at a recent home game.

Odemwingie was born in the former Soviet Union state of Uzbekistan and holds dual nationality due to his Nigerian mother. He made the decision to represent Nigeria as opposed to both Russia and the nation of his birth, and captained the Super Eagles at this year’s African Cup of Nations before featuring in the World Cup Finals in South Africa.

“Coloured players feel the open racism there (Russia) and I recall a game against CSKA Moscow when their fans started the sick noises – I wouldn’t have any of it and gave it back to them,” said Odemwingie.

“This was widely publicised because photographers had shots of my protest but still nothing was done to curb it.

“Sadly, it’s a picture of a minority group in Russia – it really makes you feel sick but that is what it is.”

However the head of Russia’s bid to host the 2018 World Cup denied that the banner was racist. “I know that this banner applied to a certain player and to the manner of how he played in his last matches,” said Alexei Sorokin.

“Apparently fans were not happy with the fact that he plays better for Nigeria and worse for the club. That’s why they have shown their satisfaction after he left. And there is nothing racial in it.

“If there would be another player – from Russia, Denmark, Norway or Japan, for example – the reaction could be the same. In Russia ‘to get a banana’ means ‘to fail a test somewhere’.”

This isn’t the first time that a Russian team has come under scrutiny for allegations of racism with both Spartak Moscow and Zenit St. Petersburg being fined in the last three years, though in this instance the Lokomotiv has escaped punishment from Uefa.

Odemwingie became an instant fans’ favourite at The Hawthorns, scoring the winner against Sunderland on his debut. As a show of support for the player, the West Brom fans have put together a carefully planned response with a banner thanking Lokomotiv for Odemwingie to be unveiled at this weekend’s game against Tottenham Hotspur.

Martin Greenwod from the website was instrumental in the organisation of the banner and he told that it was important for the fans to have their say on the matter.

“The campaign started on our messageboard,” he said. “It was an immediate reaction to the sickening and bang out of order banner of Lokomotiv Moscow, that made certain headlines over here. Given that West Brom is a club and indeed a fanbase that prides itself in being multi cultural, both current and back in the halcyon days of the Three Degrees, then we took particular exception to it.”

“A couple of the lads who are savvy on Photoshop and various other design software got cracking on some ideas for banners, flags etc. Some 24 hours later, we had ideas coming in left, right and centre, as well as multiple designs for banners.”

The Kick It Out anti-racism group has also given the banner its backing, while the FA have been in touch and local media have also picked up the story.

“The idea behind the campaign is not necessarily to create a ‘confrontation’ with Lokomotiv, but more of a sign of defiance, and also to show that Peter Odemwingie is welcomed by one and all at West Bromwich Albion,” said Greenwood.

“Racism has absolutely no place in football, and it is a motive that pretty much every single West Bromwich Albion fan has embedded in them.”

Facebook group, which describes itself as ‘A fan page in support of the “Thanks Lokomotiv” and “Kick racism out of football” banner’, has also been drumming up publicity for the banner and is just short of having 2000 members.

Below is the one of the banners that will be on display at The Hawthorns on Saturday.

The Let’s Kick Racism Out of Football campaign was established in 1993 and Kick It Out established as a body in 1997. is supported and funded by the game’s governing bodies, including founding body the Professional Footballers Association (PFA), the Premier League and The Football Association.

The Author

Neil Sherwin

Co-editor of Writes mostly on Premier League and A-League with contributions to other sites including TheFootballSack, InBedWithMaradona and Bloomberg's BSports. Has featured on The Guardian's Football Weekly.

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