Protests Over Bowyer Move11 January 2003

Angry fans voiced their concerns today, following West Ham’s signing of Lee Bowyer from Leeds United. Hammers manager, Glenn Roeder, snapped up the midfielder for a mere £100,000, a fraction of the £9million he was valued at over a year ago. Bowyer does however come with a hidden cost – his troubled past.

At the beginning of 2000, Bowyer, Woodgate and two others were involved in an incident where Asian student Sarfraz Najeib was seriously assaulted. Sarfraz was chased from the Majestyk nightclub in Leeds then battered unconscious. The four later appeared in court where they pleaded not guilty. Bowyer was cleared whilst team-mate Woodgate and friend Neale Caveney were both found guilty of affray. Jonathan Paul Clifford, a friend of Woodgate, was convicted of GBH with intent and affray and was jailed for six years.

Earlier, in 1996, Bowyer was convicted of affray after throwing a chair at Nizam Hannan, a young asian employee at McDonalds. Bowyer was nearly imprisoned for the attack, whilst the allegations of racist “Paki” remarks were never proven.

Understandably, Bowyer’s transfer to West Ham as angered many fans of a club that enjoys a diverse local community.

“Glenn Roeder said he hadn’t given the reaction of the local community a thought when he signed Bowyer. We are horrified he has not considered our views and intend to make them known in a peaceful protest.” Graham Bash, of the West Ham Fans Against Racism.

Protesters handed out leaflets outside the ground and chanted “Bowyer out”. Elaine Heffernan, one of the protesting West Ham fans, said, “Bowyer will split our club down the middle and our community. We’ve gone back 10 or 20 years. This is what it used to be like. We are appalled at the club’s decision to sign Lee Bowyer. What message does this give to the local community?”

Not all fans are against Bowyer’s inclusion though. West Ham are currently in a desperate situation at the foot of the Premiership and they urgently need players of Bowyer’s ability if they are to survive the drop. He received a warm welcome inside the ground, with the crowd cheering every time he was on the ball.

Ironically, West Ham were pioneers of the inclusion of Black footballers when they signed striker Clyde Best in the late sixties. Best, now living in his native Bermuda, stated, “I’d hope he’s forgotten the attitudes that got him into trouble and that he has changed. If he has, then he should be allowed to go on and play his football. But it’s down to a person’s character. Lee Bowyer has to say that he realises he did wrong and that he has no racist thoughts – but he has to mean it. He needs to have someone look him in the eye and make sure he’s sincere about the statements he’s made – that he really doesn’t have any malice or bad feeling towards people of colour. If he has racist thoughts, then he needs counselling to get rid of them because he would need help. He should have no place at West Ham or in football. There’s no room for racists in football.”

The one shining light in the whole episode is that, the departure of Bowyer from the Leeds United first team squad, may well pave the way for the Premiership’s first home-grown Asian player, Harpal Singh.