Stevenage boss Dino Maamria: I have suffered racism because of the colour of my skin and my background
PUBLISHED: 16:43 13 December 2018 | UPDATED: 16:54 13 December 2018
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He grew up in Tunisia poor but with big dreams.
It’s a long way from Gafsa, on the fringes of the Sahara desert in south-west Tunisia, to leafy Hertfordshire, but Dino Maamria has made the journey back to his spiritual home – the town of Stevenage.
Maamria is fast earning a reputation for high-intensity, muscular football as his side continue to punch above their weight during their impressive start to the League Two season which included beating leaders Milton Keynes at the end of last month.
However his journey through the beautiful game has not been without pain as charismatic Boro boss Maamria bravely recalled some of the racism and prejudice he has suffered during his career in football.
Maamria revealed he has experienced the same racism Raheem Sterling suffered at the weekend during Manchester City’s defeat to Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.
With Arsenal and England U21 star Ainsley Maitland-Niles also courageously sharing the racist abuse he faced during his career, Maamria has now joined the growing number of those within the game who have chosen to speak out against the abuse they suffer simply because of the colour of their skin and their ethnicity.
Speaking to CometSport the powerfully-built Maamria said passionately: “It’s so important to highlight the issues raised by the Raheem Sterling incident.
“I would encourage everybody to speak about suffering racist abuse. I would certainly encourage my players to. If there’s an issue you have to be able to speak about it.”
When asked if he believed racism was still a big issue in football Maamria replied: “I think it’s there. Racism in football is definitely there.
“Everybody has got to do more. It was a shame what happened to Raheem Sterling but it happens up and down the country all the time.
“It got highlighted because it was a [high profile] game on TV. All of us need to do more.”
The youngest of seven children Maamria grew up street-smart with a quick wit and ability to appraise situations immediately.
While his football-mad friends on the dusty streets of Gafsa held ambitions to be doctors and engineers, all Maamria wanted to do was become a professional footballer.
Yes, he was born in a tent, but that is no more relevant than saying an English working-class sportsman emerged into the world via an underfunded, decrepit NHS hospital.
What has shaped his life is his passion for the beautiful game as well as the vagaries of chance and luck, good and bad – all the while standing up to racism.
He continued: “I don’t really focus on comments aimed at me but in games you do hear a lot of things.
“I can only speak about myself but of course [I have been on the end of racism]. You just report it to the officials but it has happened in football and continues to happen in football.
“It has happened to myself.”
The most recent occurrence has been at the Lamex. He recalled ruefully. “It was at Stevenage. [From away fans from an unnamed team]. You just report it to the referee.
“We are in a tough business and you can’t show weakness. People jump on you. What you can do about it is to report it and you crack on with the job you are paid to do.”
I ask him if he believes the racist abuse he received was down to the colour of his skin and his Arabic background.
“Both,” this proud man and the first African to manage in English league football as well as the first Arabic-speaker, replies emphatically. “It’s there. “We can’t hide it but what’s important is what we do after that.
Maamria is proud to call England his home. He has two beautiful young children born in this country. Those struggling to comprehend the notion of a diverse Britain in the 21st century would struggle to pigeonhole Maamria and the family he has established in England.
From the moment former Burnley scout Brian Miller spotted the teenager playing up front for a team from the tourist resort of Sousse, Etoile Sportive du Sahel, while on holiday in the country and offered him a two-week trial, Maamria has called the UK his home.
He made the leap to post-industrial Lancashire and never looked back, fighting harder than anyone through the travails the sporting life has thrown at him.
“Yes it was a culture shock, coming to England. It was cold, it was dark. Everything closed at 5pm just when I wanted to go out and have a coffee.
“In Tunisia you would go out with your friends for a coffee in the evening, but in Burnley, everything was closed at 6pm. If you wanted a coffee you had to go to a pub.
“I remember sitting in pubs drinking coffee with the rain lashing down outside. Some people would have got homesick and given up.
“But I am a fighter. And I love England. Don’t forget I was living my dream of becoming a professional footballer – in England, the home of football.”
If that was his big chance to escape the desert, a more unfortunate break saw him snap his fibia early in his career, which saw his Claret hopes stall.
Thousands of miles away from home in a cold, strange land, with little English he thrived as he progressed through the difficult world of professional football.
He arrived at Stevenage and proceeded to be part of the team that challenged at the top level of non-league football to the point where Maamria is already revered as a club icon.
He was also No2 to the abrasive but successful Graham Westley as the club continued their ascent through the fourth tier. Fuelled by a desire to be his own man and a curiosity to see if he could cut it as a manager he worked hard at non-league outposts Northwich Victoria, Southport and Nuneaton Town – before headhunted by astute businessman Wallace who knows a good manager when he sees one.
As he said earlier in the season: “I don’t care that I was born poor and lived in a tent. That’s just headlines. There is more to me than that. I am proud that I am the first African to manage in the Football League and I am determined to do well.”
Yet Maamria has always been a keen student of the game, and relished helping other young players through coaching – including future England player and Burnley alumni Jay Rodriguez.
A charismatic character, with a ready smile may offer a misleading view of his personality – but woe betide anyone who mistakes his geniality for weakness. Maamria is as tough as they come.
As he concludes: “Racism is unacceptable. But it is the response to it which is important,” before adding, “which is why we have to speak out about racism.”
Follow Layth Yousif on Twitter @laythy29