The 43-year-old head coach of MLS club Montreal Impact spent 8 years at Arsenal before he moved to Barcelona and then joined MLS side New York Red Bulls. While at Arsenal, he recounted how he was racially abused in a Champions League away match against Valencia.
Thierry Henry said the fans of the opposing team spit on him while he was about to take a corner kick. When he ran to the referee to show him the spittle on his jersey, the referee couldn’t do anything then to order him to play on.
“We need to make people aware that we are in pain”, Thierry Henry told Bleacher Report. “Enough is enough. You fast forward and we are still in the same situation.
“In a Champions League match at Valencia, I went to take a corner people were spitting on me and I remembered I look at my shirt and I saw a lot of… And so, I ran across to the referee and made him look and he said play. What do you want me to do? Play! And I was like what do you want me to do! What about if I tell you I have punched someone? Then they would have said, he should know better. He should not react. He should behave.
“What do you mean I should behave? Yes, I should behave, fans should behave too. Are we not all in the game, are we not all part of the game?”
Besides the racial abuse he suffered at Valencia, the former Arsenal forward recounted how he had to celebrate arrogantly when he scored in a match for Arsenal. Henry said he decided to do that in Greece in reaction to the racial abuse he suffered in the hands of the opposing team.
He lamented that he had to be punished for celebrating arrogantly which was the only way he could pay back the fans who were racially abusing him in the stadium.
“I remembered playing away in Greece. At one point I scored a goal”, Thierry Henry said. “I stood up like in a very arrogant way just because of the way they are doing some monkey noises.
“And after, I was hammered because I was arrogant looking at them. And that was the only way I could say, you can do whatever you want but it would not affect me. They didn’t understand why I stood in a stoic manner looking at them like yes, I scored and what, what are you gonna do?”
Thierry Henry reference Moussa Marega’s racial abuse
Speaking further about how players are still suffering racial abuse in football, Henry made reference to an incident that happened in the Portuguese league where Porto forward Moussa Marega had to walk away from the pitch when he was racially abused after scoring a goal.
The encounter happened in the Porto match against Vitoria Guimaraes in February 2020. The 28-year-old Mali international left the pitch in the 69th minute of the match despite the fact that his teammates tried to lure him to stay. The match ended 2-1 in favor of Porto.
“The last one was the striker of Porto”, Thierry Henry continued. “He wanted to come out of the field. In my mind, I am like, why don’t your whole team comes out of the field? Why don’t my teammates come out of the field because sometimes you feel isolated?
“It happens to me in so many games. And instead of talking about the game, at one point you become … you went out, why did you go out? The whole thing goes on you.
“When Marega, that is the name of the striker, was left alone to talk to the whole press, it looks like it was Marega’s problem against everybody else. If the whole team comes out and says I am not playing because they insulted my teammate. And whether you white or whether you black, whatever it is, then you shouldn’t be shouting, shouting anything. It affects me if it affects you. That is why I think we are all human beings. And that is why we should go and try to educate people.”
Racial Abuse: Thierry Henry’s recounts his USA experience
Since 2010, Thierry Henry has been in the United States of America first as a player of New York Red Bulls and then as the head coach of Montreal Impact. However, in between that period, he was out of the country to serve as assistant coach of the Belgium national team between 2016-2018. And then spent a season as Monaco football manager before he returned to the United States to coach Montreal Impact in 2019.
Henry said doors are always open to him when he gets to shops where they see him as a successful person but gets inhumane treatment when he is not recognized as a football legend especially when he is in a hoodie which he says he enjoys wearing.
“When you are successful as a black guy, so many people don’t see your color anymore. They see the guy that score goals for arsenal and the guy that score guys for France. And that is okay”, he said.
“When I arrived in the US, I enjoyed my time in the US. I love New York. But my color came back because suddenly, people couldn’t recognize me anymore. And I love to wear a hoodie. But when you wear that, you are straight away from the hood.
“When people do recognize me when I arrive in their shops, everything opens great. But when people don’t recognize me, the security guard is following me. And when your color comes back, when you ask for a cab in New York sometimes people don’t stop. And I was like, wow, reality check because the color is still here and it will always be here and I am proud to have it.”
Thierry Henry’s message against racial discrimination
In the concluding part of his interview with Bleacher Report, Thierry Henry urged black skin people not to try to fit into the society they find themselves but to try to feel belong. He concluded by urging the football world to take action against racial abuse in football.
“My message for whoever, obviously, we are talking about our community, black community. You don’t have to fit in, you have to belong. Obviously, you have to respect what you need to respect but you don’t have to fit in, you have to belong”, Thierry Henry said.
“In terms of football, I want actions. That is it. It doesn’t always have to be us crying, it doesn’t have to be us to say, ‘can we stop the game, can they get the proper fine?’ Next time, stop the game. It shouldn’t be the decision of the player was after, he has to face the whole press alone. He should stop the game. And then, suddenly, they should go to Fifa or UEFA and ask why did you stop the game?
“I realize at a particular moment that it was very important to share it that we have a voice, all of us, not only the black players, everybody, in order to have an impact on the future generation.”