Police have teamed up with Stoke City and Port Vale to crackdown on racism blighting football.
Supporters are today being warned they will be taken to court and handed match banning orders if they are caught chanting offensive abuse in the stands.
They are also being encouraged to report any incidents of hate crime or discriminatory behaviour at both the bet365 Stadium and Vale Park.
As part of the Kick It Out campaign there will be an increased police presence when the Potters take on Cardiff City on Saturday and Vale play Scunthorpe at home on February 29.
The move comes after both clubs – and clubs across the country as well as the England football team – have seen recent incidents of abuse aimed at players and supporters.
Superintendent Ricky Fields, Staffordshire Police’s head of operation support, said: “Tackling the subject of racism in football is something that is a huge priority for Staffordshire Police.
“We clearly do not support or tolerate this type of behaviour and we will follow up any and all enquiries made via 101, the football clubs or Kick It Out.
“We understand the overwhelming majority of fans will behave as they should but we are aware a small minority will let themselves and their clubs down.
“We encourage all supporters to help us tackle the issue by being our eyes and ears, reporting any sign of racism or discrimination to the nearest officer or steward – we will treat any reports in the strictest confidence.
“We will seek to gather evidence to support prosecutions and any individual found to be taking part in any form of racist or discriminatory chanting can expect to be dealt with robustly – whether that be football banning orders or strong criminal convictions.”
Stoke City midfielder James McClean gave an extensive interview about the kind of abuse he has received during his career in England – and why and how, with help from clubs, anti-racism campaigners and the authorities, he is trying to make it stop.
He said: “The abuse is obviously highlighted in November but I’ve been getting it every week for eight or nine years. I normally roll with it and I do think I’m thick skinned.
“I’ve been very vocal in the last few years – but in a way I perhaps have been to blame as well because I haven’t followed it up and gone after the right people. I didn’t think it was my job, discrimination is discrimination and it shouldn’t need me to cry about it.
“But with a big deal being made of racism, that I was thinking I’d been getting that for eight or nine years – why is no one speaking up for me? I thought I’m going to challenge them and go critical publicly about the powers that be.
“I think the moment of change was when the daughter started asking me at games why they were booing me and saying nasty things. As a father I shouldn’t have to that conversation. She still doesn’t know the reason. That was enough.
“I went after the FA and to be fair to them the powers that be have been brilliant ever since. Be careful what you wish for because now they’re constantly on the phone! It’s brilliant.
“The clubs have been brilliant. Sunderland weren’t – that was a total disaster and it still cuts deep, I was hung out to dry – but Wigan, West Brom and Stoke have been brilliant and understanding.
“But at an away game, how do you shut up 15,000? You can’t do it.
“A lot of it is ‘**** the IRA,’ which I can deal with because I’ve never been a member of the IRA and well… then it’s ‘**** the Pope’ and your usual, ‘You Irish ****,’ ‘You Fenian ****.’
“We played Middlesbrough away last year and we had a corner and it was my job to stand on the keeper. I was standing there marking Darren Randolph and they were shouting from behind the goal, ‘You Irish ****, you Fenian ****!’
“And I was like, ‘Your goalkeeper’s Irish!’ It’s a complete lack of education, a mob mentality. Mindless idiots.”
Stoke City’s chief executive Tony Scholes today welcomed the crackdown.
He said: “There’s simply no place for discriminatory behaviour in football and society in general and we are working closely with Staffordshire Police to ensure that there continues to be an inclusive and welcoming environment for everyone who visits the bet365 Stadium.”
Port Vale owner Carol Shanahan added: “I am very much of the belief all football clubs have a duty of care to its players, supporters and employees, a value we have very much embedded during our relatively short period of ownership so far at Port Vale.
“This duty of care covers any variation of abuse or discrimination which Port Vale Football Club simply will not tolerate.
“It’s well known this issue extends beyond way football and we are lucky to have many phenomenal communities within Stoke-on-Trent and in the world of football, its only together that we will drive change and eradicate discrimination.”
A Kick It Out spokesman said: “Whether it be on the playing fields in your local park, or surrounded by thousands of people at a top-flight game – discrimination has no place in football. Kick It Out, the Police and football clubs are working together to make it a priority to encourage fans and players to report discriminatory behaviour if they witness it.
“When discrimination takes place at any level of the game, we need to ensure that we can take positive action so we can take measures to ensure it doesn’t happen again and football is a welcoming environment for everyone.
“Kick It Out and the police welcomes players and supporters reporting discriminatory incidents. The free downloadable Kick It Out app offers a quick, easy and discreet way of reporting incidents anonymously. You can also report them online or by telephone. See www.kickitout.org.”