Liverpool supporter slated by fans twice ends cricket career

If Azeem Rafiq is an accident waiting to happen, it already has happened. The Preston North End captain was playing his team’s opening game of the Premier League season against West Ham and, as…

Liverpool supporter slated by fans twice ends cricket career

If Azeem Rafiq is an accident waiting to happen, it already has happened.

The Preston North End captain was playing his team’s opening game of the Premier League season against West Ham and, as is often the case with a first season in the English top flight, his pre-match warm-up, a very vigorous one which involved 40 cricketers taking turns throwing a bat from pitch to pitch, had been overshadowed by chants against him. The Preston North End captain is playing in a predominantly Asian community in east Lancashire and there was no mistaking the jeers which greeted him as he turned around to make his way back to the changeroom, the distinctest being a rueful dig at Rafiq’s appearance, made with a bowler’s mitt, over the ribs.

Eventually, several men in the crowd held the chant down but, as Rafiq came out to collect his kit before kick-off, the abuse from all angles continued. “They kept saying, ‘It’s a black cricketer,’” Rafiq said on Sky Sports, adding that the following week his local shopping centre had similar chants: “People were trying to sell me shoes with his face on it.”

The 29-year-old said he had spent his formative years playing cricket in the Delhi region and came to England 15 years ago to study engineering. He subsequently made a few tentative first-team appearances for Preston, his home town club, and was welcomed as one of its residents.

However, under the threat of losing his place in the team because of the abuse, Rafiq announced his retirement from the sport, fearing it was worse than being constantly in pain from the bowling. He is happy to return to the game but says the abuse needs to stop.

“The fact that you’re the focal point of the ridicule is the most disgusting thing that a human being can ever go through,” he said. “They’re just making me feel like I’m untouchable.

“I wouldn’t want my kids to play any sport, they shouldn’t have to be in pain and they shouldn’t have to suffer like that from players and fans.”

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