One of England’s best-known women footballers has revealed she was racially abused in her first ever game when she was only nine-years old.
Demi Stokes, a defender for Manchester City and the Lionesses, recalled the shocking moment as she urged high profile athletes to speak out in the wake of the death of George Floyd and the subsequent global protests.
“It was my first ever game in an all girls’ team.
"Without even knowing it I took a stand and said that’s not OK because I went and told the ref.
"He called me a p***… he said ‘I’ll mark the p***.’
"I told the ref.
"It was dealt with very quickly, he got taken off and his coach apologised.”
A member of Phil Neville’s 2019 World Cup squad, Stokes studied and played for the South Florida Bulls in America for three years between 2011 and 2014.
She says racism in the States was more evident than back home in England.
She was living there when the black teenager Trayvon Martin was shot dead on his way home from the supermarket.
The man responsible was subsequently acquitted and that was the birth of the #BlackLivesMatter movement.
“I think that was really eye opening to me because I just thought ‘wow it is bad’ and then you switch on the TV and every other day something has happened.”
Stokes says she was protected from racism to a large extent because she was living in a college environment, however, she admits that if she lived there permanently now, she would find it intimidating.
But she points out that while it might not be on the same level, we are far from immune to racism in the UK and feels part of the problem is that it is conversation that comes and goes.
"I think there is an underlying issue with racism, I think we’ve seen it a lot in football quite recently, but I feel like every time it happens we talk a little bit and then it goes.
"What we need to do is keep the ball rolling.”
And this is where she thinks high profile sports stars can help by using social media and the mainstream media to keep the conversation at the forefront of people’s minds.
Given the reaction to Floyd’s death around the world, Stokes believes this is a great opportunity to create a momentum that would be difficult to stop.
“We’re scratching the surface but I think it’s just the start of something good, it’s the start of change.
"Although there are a lot of sad families, you can see that people are wanting to... stamp on racism and make a change.
"There are many different avenues you can take to give a voice for people who don’t have that opportunity to be able to get their voice across and to be heard.
"It gets the ball rolling for difficult conversations.
"That’s the only way this can be solved by having uncomfortable conversations."
So what is her message to her fans and followers, especially those not from a BAME background?
"It's not about being black and being white, it's not about that.
"It's about coming together as one human race because that's what we are.
"It's not saying, you know, just black lives matter, what we are saying is, everyone's life matters but this time black people need your help and need everyone’s help.
"People are brought up by a parent, people are bought by grandparents and everyone has different views, and that's fine, that’s OK but for now we're just saying that black people just need the help now.”
The young girl who dealt calmly but effectively with being abused as a nine-year-old footballer is now having to speak out again, but she genuinely believes by doing so, at this particular time, she has the opportunity to make a small difference.