On Wearside, he is a goal-scoring hero idolised by a legion of football fans. But Sunderland striker Asamoah Gyan has also seen the ugly side of the beautiful game while playing overseas.
The Ghanaian international, who today gave his support to the Show Racism the Red Card action group, has spoken for the first time about being the target of abuse and “monkey” noises at matches in Italy.
While at Serie B club Modena, he was disgusted by the behaviour of a section of opposition fans, who aimed a volley of sickening chants at him. “I remember when I played for Modena I experienced monkey chanting,” he said. “That game was 2-2 and when I scored they started calling me names like monkey, trying to imitate a monkey.
“I’m somebody who doesn’t look at those things. I just concentrate on the game. “I had the same experience when I played for the same team against Verona. “I think racism in Italy is a problem more so than in this country. “I remember we played once, I didn’t score, but I had that experience.
“I didn’t hear what they were saying, but at the end of the game I read in the newspaper that they had been banned because they were insulting me.” The 25-year-old, who includes former president of South Africa Nelson Mandela among his heroes, is urging Fifa, the world governing body of football, to do more to stamp out the problem.
“When I hear many people calling me names, like supporters – it makes me angry,” he said. “An individual cannot do it to my face, but they can do it amongst a crowd. “And it’s frustrating. But if the fans do that, sometimes they do it to frustrate you because they want to win – they don’t mean what they’re doing. “But on the other hand, some may mean it.
“So, for instance, when I’m playing, I don’t listen to the fans because I know they do many things to provoke you. Craig Bankhead, North East education manager with Show Racism the Red Card, said he has been overwhelmed by the support from players.
“The Show Racism the Red Card campaign is based on utilising the high-profile status of professional sportspeople to combat racism in society,” he said.
“Having stars like Asamoah Gyan talking about his experiences of racism both on and off the pitch allows us to communicate a message of anti-racism to young people.
“Our current DVD features Thierry Henry, Didier Drogba, Samuel Eto’o and other internationally renowned football players who have given up their time to help tackle racism in society.”