LONDON, Dec 6 (Reuters) - Thierry Henry needs no
lecturing about how racists leave an ugly mark on football -- he
still remembers the night his Arsenal shirt was spattered with their
Years later, the Frenchman is now launching his own charity to try
to tackle racism and social inequality among the young and
under-privileged -- by drawing on his own experiences.
Called "The One 4 All Foundation", playing on the striker's initials
and shirt number 14, the charity plans to fund sports and
educational projects in Europe and Africa.
Though much has been to combat racism in English football, Henry has
suffered abuse in away fixtures in the Champions League. His former
captain Patrick Vieira notably complained about fans' behaviour
after a match at Valencia in 2003.
Speaking after the charity's launch, Henry told Reuters: "To be
honest, unfortunately, it's happened in so many games in Europe.
"I remember one in particular, we were playing away at Valencia.
"I went to take a corner kick -- and people were spitting at me,
throwing coins and lighters. I was a bit sad. Should you react? And
then you're the bad man?
"I remember going to see the referee and showing, unfortunately, all
the spit on my shirt. And I brought the coins and the lighter. The
ref looked at me and said 'What do you want me to do'?
"I felt useless and I'm sure he felt useless. He didn't know what to
do, I didn't know what to do and therefore we carried on playing."
Now with the wealth and influence that comes from being one of the
world's top footballers, Henry feels he is in a position to try and
change a few attitudes. He also wants to put money into the kinds of
communities he left behind when he left his home in the bleak Paris
suburb of Les Ulis.
"You need to educate people," he told a news conference to launch
his charity. "That's pretty difficult and it's why I am doing it
with kids because you can educate them. That's who I'm targeting.
"Why under-privileged kids? Because that's where I come from and I
feel the need to give something back. When you're young, you feel
you have to do your own thing -- and then you give it back. "With
the money we're going to generate for the foundation I'm going to
try and build some schools, maybe not here, maybe in Africa, maybe
around the area where I come from."
Closer to his adopted home, he added: "I'm going to try and go out
to areas in south and east London and give some of my time, my
experience and what I've been through in my life to those kids --
and also to help them moneywise."
Some of the money will come from the profits from a special clothes
collection being released by fashion house Tommy Hilfiger next year
in a partnership agreement.
In inner city London, the money could go on facilities, whether just
a tarmaced area for sport or a basketball court.
"Somewhere for them to express themselves," was Henry's description.
"I had the chance in my neighbourhood to express myself as a
footballer, they had the facilities. When you have young talent,
young athletes, you have to make sure in this kind of area they have
Henry's desire for action has been prompted not just by the racist
behaviour of football fans.
In part, it is a practical response to having been appointed an
anti-racism ambassador for FIFA, the game's governing body
worldwide, in 2005. However, it has also been shaped by another
incident in Spain, when national coach Luis Aragones made
disparaging remarks about him to Henry's then Arsenal team mate Jose
Antonio Reyes in 2004.
Henry later criticised the modest fine handed out to Aragones and
questioned the Spanish federation's attitude to racism.
"When I answered Aragones two years ago, I said it wasn't going to
be the end, that I wasn't going to leave it there," Henry said in
London's Royal Academy. "But it takes time to build a foundation.
Even if the money has to come from my own pocket, and sometimes it
will, I don't mind.
"For me, this is really important to my heart."
By Trevor Huggins