Mark Bright still has the letter. He’s not sure why he kept it, handwritten and scrawled in capital letters, but he did.
He stashed it in a filing cabinet and in the same brown envelope that arrived at the Sheffield Wednesday training ground in January 1994 addressed to their black centre-forward.
Bright had been in good form at the time and scored in a win at Everton around Christmas which had led to speculation that their new manager Mike Walker was interested in bringing him to Goodison Park.
Ex-Crystal Palace star Mark Bright opens up on his amazing battle to beat racism and rejection
Inside the envelope was a note, unsigned. It read: ‘LISTEN YOU HORRIBLE BLACK T**T, COME ANYWHERE NEAR EVERTON AND YOU’LL GET YOUR F**KING BACK BROKE YOU SL*T S**GGING BAG OF N***** S**T BE WARNED.’
Bright blinked and read it again. Then again. He started to laugh, not because it was funny but because he could not quite believe it. He showed some of his team-mates and they, too, started to laugh, told him to take no notice and chuck it in the bin. But he didn’t. He took it home.
‘You just think, my God, how angry must you be,’ says Bright, the former Crystal Palace, Leicester and Port Vale striker.
‘You have to sit down and write that. You have to get a pad out, find a pen, sit down, think of something to write, then write it, fold it, put it in the envelope, lick the stamp, walk to a postbox and put it in. How bad do you have to hate someone to do that?’
Racism is easier now, he says. People don’t need to go to such lengths to abuse black footballers today; it takes seconds.
‘They can just open a Twitter account. Chelsea’s Tammy Abraham misses a penalty and all of a sudden he’s a black this or that.’
He thought society had got better. In his autobiography My Story, out this week, Bright recalls the widespread incidents of racism he endured growing up as a black man in Stoke in the Sixties and Seventies; he and his brother Phil sprinting from the school gates as boys lay in wait to throw stones.
Bright had to rewrite part of his autobiography after the recent upsurge of racism in football
Later, as a professional footballer, he writes: ‘We would come out for a warm-up and people would put their hands under their arms and make monkey chants.’
‘When I was doing the book, I wrote about how pleased I am that this generation does not have to go through what we did.’
Bright rewrote it. Since he first penned the chapter, Raheem Sterling, Marcus Rashford, Abraham, Hamza Choudhury, and Wilfried Zaha, of Bright’s own club Crystal Palace where he played and is now a director of Under 23s development, have all been racially abused.
England’s black players were subjected to abhorrent chants by Bulgaria fans. Haringey walked off after racial abuse by Yeovil supporters in the FA Cup.
‘I couldn’t let that go in,’ said Bright. ‘Someone will read it and wonder what am I on about. I said it was so much better now: conditions, environments, stadiums. And we’ve gone backwards again.
‘It saddens me because I thought we had come a long way. I think Kick It Out and the FA have made great strides and then you see Romelu Lukaku go to Italy and get this whole load of abuse and the Italian FA decide there is not enough evidence.
‘I heard Gianni Infantino make a passing remark during the FIFA World Best awards, saying we’ve got to stop this. No, you have got to stop this. You have got to punish people, you have got to close stadiums, you have got to deduct points. People will start to listen then.’
Bright thinks social media is to blame, especially in this country. Brexit, too. The two combined and there is a platform to spread hate.
Bright had an early taste of how poisonous a place Twitter can be in the website’s formative years.
England’s black players were subjected to abhorrent chants by Bulgaria fans last month
‘A guy at the BBC set me up with an account. He said I’d be good at this. It’s banter, really, he said. It was fun but people thought they could say whatever they want.’
Late one night, Bright received a notification. ‘I had this tweet come into me, “You black n*****, it is because of your ancestors that there is AIDS, s**gging monkeys”. He copied in his mate, who replied saying, “Yeah, you black c***”.
‘So I pasted it on to a Word document. Because it was all new, on his bio he had a link to his Facebook page. It came up with his picture, with his wife and kids, where he lived and worked. I saved it.’
A few years later, Stan Collymore took action against a student who racially abused him on Twitter and the abuser was sentenced to two years community service.
‘I went on to my computer and found the document,’ Bright continued. ‘I copied the name into Twitter and he was still on there. I sent him a message, “All right mate, guess what I saved. That tweet you sent me a few years ago. What should I do with it?” He deleted his account. His mate did the same.
‘So I went on his Facebook and sent him a message on there, “I know who you are, where you work, everything about you. I am going to take my time and think about what I am going to do”.’
‘He replied, “Mark, I’m so sorry. I was drunk”. I thought about it. I could ruin this guy’s life. Did I really want to do that? He deleted his account and apologised. I just left it.’
Does he wish he had gone further? ‘No, I don’t want to ruin someone’s life. Hopefully, he will have learned not to do it again. They have got to know they can’t get away with it.’
Stan Collymore took action against a student who racially abused him on Twitter
It was another note, sent by Bright’s mum to his father on November 21, 1964 that would change the direction of Mark’s life more than any other.
Bright’s mother Maureen, a white working-class girl from Stoke, was living apart from his Gambian father Edward — a man over whom she had been chased around the house by her own brother, such was the impact of a white woman dating a black man in the Fifties.
Bright was two years old when his mum failed to return, as promised, from a wedding to pick up him, his brother and his older sister Marie from their father’s.