Eniola Aluko on women's football's Black pioneers & tackling racism through education

Eniola Aluko is part of BT's Hope United campaign
Eniola Aluko is part of BT's Hope United campaign / Karl Bridgeman/GettyImages

Exclusive - Former England forward Eniola Aluko has stressed the importance of education from a young age as a driving force in eradicating racism from society, as well as teaching more positive aspects of Black British history in schools.

As part of the BT’s Hope United squad, Aluko, who considers sport a ‘unifier’ that breaks down divides, is also sharing the stories of football’s Black pioneers in a new educational content series.

Emma Clarke is one of those pioneers. Born in Liverpool in 1876, Clarke is considered to be Britain’s first Black female footballer, yet hers is a name that for many has been lost to history when her story is a positive one of trailblazer that could still inspire people today.

“I found out that Emma Clarke was the first Black female footballer and was shocked, because why have I not known about this lady [before] – 11 years playing in the England national team,” Aluko, who played over 100 times for England during her own career, told 90min.

“That would have helped me a lot, knowing that somebody came before me, who was the first.

“I think it tells the story of how history can be forgotten. I know that we can’t talk about everything in history, but I do think we have to be more conscious of people, like Emma Clarke, who was the first at a time when it was really, really difficult to be the first.

“Women’s football has had such a long journey, lots of adversity, lots of setbacks, so that story needs to be told and I was really privileged and proud to tell that story and shine a light.

“I’m sure there is a tonne of people who are like, ‘Who’s Emma Clarke?’ Then you go googling and find out and think, ‘Oh wow!’ because you find out so much. That’s the whole point of what we’re doing, to educate, to allow people to discover and find out more.”

Clarke is among those honoured with a plaque from the Nubian Jak Community Trust, the only commemorative plaque and sculpture scheme focussed on commemorating the contributions of Black and minority ethnic people in Britain.

The ‘number one priority’ in the fight against racism is educating children from a young age within schools, teaching the importance of respect for people who are different from them.

“If the next generation make the same errors as the last generation there is something really, really wrong,” Aluko explained. “We really do need to make sure that we’re planting the right seeds with the next generation and really allow the next generation to understand that respect of other people different to you is the number one route to harmony in society.

“A lot of the time there are established ways of treating people in a bad way that get passed on through generation and generation. The only way to reverse that is through education.

“When kids go home and see what their parents do, obviously they are going to replicate that. The only way of breaking the cycle is to go to school and the kids to come back and start educating the parents and go, ‘That doesn’t sound right, I learned this in school.’”

Education never stops, even after leaving school. Aluko herself admits she is also still learning.

“I think our hope is in our youngsters and our next generation and making sure that we’re planting seeds that were never planted within us. That is why I really like Hope United because the educational element is really important,” she said.

“I’m learning and I’m not young – I’m still young-ish, but I’m not in school anymore and I’m still learning and you can never stop. It has to start in school, it’s so important.”

Aluko explained that the Black history she was taught in school was "all very negative and quite heavy".

"One thing I’ve realised about history is there are lots of positives as well. As a football-obsessed girl in school, I would have loved to learn about Emma Clarke – it’s a positive story.”

BT has released a new series of educational films, featuring members of the Hope United squad, to help educate the nation on Black British history. Visit bthopeunited.com to access the educational resources and learn more about how to tackle online hate.

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