The Padiham FC manager who took his players off the pitch when goalkeeper Tony Aghayere was subjected to alleged racial abuse has said he was "flabbergasted" at the club being fined for its actions and said he "would do it again tomorrow".
During a North West Counties Football League match between Congleton Town and Padiham FC last October, Liam Smith - who shared managerial duties for the Storks with Dixon Lambert at the time - led his players off the pitch after the former Burnley FC youth-team goalkeeper Aghayere was allegedly racially abused around an hour into the match.
Following a subsequent hearing, Padiham FC were fined £165 for abandoning the match and their opponents fined £160 for the alleged racial abuse. Smith, who left Padiham FC in December of last year and only found out about the fines yesterday, has since branded the Lancashire FA as "hypocritical" given football's supposed no-tolerance stance on racism, calling the fines "spineless".
"I was alerted to the fact that Tony had been receiving some abuse and I immediately said to the linesman that I wanted to speak to the referee as soon as possible," said Smith, who also explained that Aghayere had brushed off abuse he had received earlier in the match. "I told him that one of our players had been racially abused and that I would be taking the players off the pitch.
"There's no place for that in football, no matter what the level," Smith added. "We wanted to present a united front, so all the players were together in walking off the pitch. I don't regret my actions one bit; I'd do it again tomorrow and I'd encourage anyone else who finds themselves in that position, God forbid, to do the same."
Despite the incident itself taking place last October, Padiham FC chairman, Shaun Astin, was moved to shine a light on the matter once again via Twitter yesterday following the abhorrent racial abuse suffered by England internationals Danny Rose, Raheem Sterling, and Callum Hudson-Odoi during a 5-1 Euro 2020 qualifying win over Montenegro in Podgorica last month.
With The English Football Association having condemned the Montenegrin fans' abuse, calling it "unacceptable at any level of the game," Shaun tweeted: "We decided to take our players off in a game because our goalkeeper was being racially abused. We were fined £165; the offending club were fined £160. Where is the justice there?"
"I was flabbergasted," Smith said of his reaction to the fines. "I think it's spineless and sends out completely the wrong message, especially when the abuse isn't just hearsay: a few of our players heard it, Tony obviously heard it, and even a few of the Congleton lads said they'd heard it when I spoke to them after the game.
"I just want to say thanks to Congleton Town and their players: they were brilliant," Smith added. "When they realised why we were coming off the pitch they understood and spoke to me about it all afterwards and the club reported it to the police. They showed their class."
Decidedly less classy has been the reaction of a select few on social media, who have taken the blatantly misguided decision to question Smith's motives for taking his players off given that Padiham were losing the game 0-3 at the time. "I think that's disgusting and completely besides the point," Smith said simply. "We were losing fair and square, but the score doesn't come into it when someone is racially abused."
The overwhelming emotion for Smith that lingers, however, is one of frustration at a perceived lack of action and an annoyance at the fact that it appears to have taken a Twitter furore to kick-start the Lancashire FA. "This happened six months ago," he said. "Why has it taken so long to address it?
"All they've done is try and sweep it under the carpet."
Both Kick it Out and Show Racism the Red Card have been contacted for comment. The Lancashire FA have been in contact to state that they will be releasing a statement on the matter in due course.