Skip to content

I’m not doing this just for fun... I’m doing it to do something with my life

ARCA Generation youth leader Mamadu Bari discusses growing up Black in London, the preconceptions he's sought to get away from and how he's hoping to spark a demographic change in football coaches and referees.

13th October 2020

by Mamadu Bari
Youth leader at ARCA Generation

Sport’s had a big impact on my life. When I was growing up, all I thought about was sport.

Once you’re on that pitch then there’s nothing else on your mind, all your problems disappear and the only focus is on the ball, nothing else.

I believe that it brings a lot of people together. You can all speak different languages, but you communicate through the ball and that’s all that matters in that moment.

Black football referee Uriah Rennie, officiating a Football League match

I was born in Guinea-Bissau, West Africa, I grew up in Portugal and moved to London eight years ago, aged 14.

I’ve not personally experienced overt racism while playing sport – you’ll always hear some unkind words, that’s part of sport sometimes, but it’s not been racist with the people I’ve played with.

That’s not to say it doesn’t exist in football, or sport in general, though. We know it does – you can see it on TV happening to players like Mario Balotelli and Raheem Sterling.

There used to be a belief for Black people that if we became professional footballers, that racism wouldn’t be directed at you.

But when you see it so openly on TV, with monkey chants and gestures from the crowd, it shows that whether you’re rich or not, whether you’re a great player or not, it’s still going to happen to you.

It shows that people aren’t abusing you because you maybe live in a poorer area than them, it’s just about your skin colour, and that is really painful.

I try not to think about it often, but it is there and sometimes you can’t avoid it.

ARCA Generation

I had a lot of free time in college and I didn’t have a job, so instead of hanging around doing the wrong things, a friend told me to come and play futsal with him at ARCA.

When I arrived, I met a lot of new people and started coming here more often – it felt like a family.

I’m now part of their workforce diversity project and four months ago I became a youth leader – it’s given me an opportunity to learn as an employee.

I try not to think about it [racism] often, but it is there and sometimes you can’t avoid it

I just graduated from university and they’ve given me some training in how to present myself in interviews. I’m also mentoring people now and I’m adding skills to my CV that can be useful for me.

I’ve been a part of ARCA for five years and I’m part of the family. I believe they’ve helped me to mature and become more aware of my actions.

I used to be very impulsive. I think that was due to my environment and the difficulties I’ve faced in my life. But they’ve taught me to approach things differently and to interact with people in a positive way.

Battling preconceptions

My life could have gone the wrong way, with a couple of different decisions. Where I studied, in Tottenham, it was very easy to go in the wrong direction.

Where I was, we all had similar thoughts. We’d never met people who’d experienced different things in life. I didn’t know about ARCA or anything like it, me going there was just down to my friend. He brought me into a different situation. That got me out of the mindset I was in and I can’t thank him enough for it.

I believe the lack of opportunities for me at that time were a combination of both my race and the area in which I lived. There were White people there as well and they shared the same mentality as some Black people.

If you grow up in one place and all you see is violence, violence, violence, you get accustomed to it and you believe there are no better ways to fix things than by reacting through violence – because that’s what settles disputes all the time.

What leads to this being the case in the first place is a complicated mix of things. A Black person is often portrayed as someone who doesn’t show weakness or emotion, so for you to stand up for yourself in a group you need to show that you’re not afraid of anything.

If someone approaches you and challenges you, the only solution to that problem is through violence, otherwise that person will never leave you alone.

Generally, depending on the area you come from, I believe that this affects a lot of Black people. And, as a result, people don’t believe you’re capable of doing something else.

Forging a new path

At ARCA there’s a whole mix of people. The only thing we share is that we live in a community that’s often discriminated against by other people, so we all face the same challenges. It’s not all about being Black, it’s about helping people from economically disadvantaged backgrounds.

They’re giving me the opportunity to do an FA refereeing qualification. I believe there aren’t enough Black referees in football – I don’t think there’s a single Black referee in the Premier League at the minute.

So, I’m trying to make changes myself. My journey on that path is just about to start. I’m preparing for it now but I hope I can change the perspective of some other Black people.

In reality, very few Black people chase a coaching or refereeing qualification, they only go for the playing side of things. So I believe if I chase this, and we get more numbers doing similar things, then eventually there will be more Black representation in other areas of football, and other sports, other than playing on the pitch.

In football specifically, we need more support from large organisations, big teams, the FA itself, so people can get qualifications and believe that they can become a referee or a coach.

I’m not doing this just for fun, or to run away from problems, I’m doing it to do something with my life and hopefully show others that they can do the same.

ARCA Generation is a non-profit organisation using sport, recreation and educational activities to help develop the skills of young people – enabling them to build a bright future for themselves and contribute to the growth of their own community and generation.

Sign up to our newsletter

You can find out exactly how we'll look after your personal data, but rest assured we’ll only use it to make sure you receive our newsletter, to understand how you interact with our newsletter, and to provide administrative information about our newsletter.