‘What if they treat me like Saka?’ Arsenal kid’s heart-breaking question

Amari Westcott’s Dad shares his son’s emotional story with our Kick N Mix grassroots football editor Mat Kendrick

Arsenal academy kid Amari Westcott with proudly displays a trophy he has won with his boyhood club.

“What if they treat me like Saka?’ I’m just like him and we both play for Arsenal too. I don’t think I want to play for England. Will you talk to them if they ever ask me?”

Those were nine-year-old Amari Westcott’s last words before bedtime following the vile racist abuse hurled at England heroes Bukayo Saka, Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho after the Three Lions lost the Euro 2020 final in a penalty shootout defeat to Italy at Wembley.

In a tweet that went viral earlier this week, his father, Apple, shared those devastating words and summed it up with a seven-word message of his own – “My heart is broken.. shattered and broken.”

Amari Westcott is all smiles at the Emirates Stadium, the home of his beloved Arsenal.

Apple, a grassroots coach with 20 years experience who has devoted much of his life to kids and academy football, has helped his boy blossom into a football fanatic so promising that he has followed Saka’s path into Arsenal’s academy. The Westcotts are a North London family of avid Arsenal fans, proud of being English and proud of their heritage.

Amari is a talented midfielder finding his way in the Gunners’ youth set up, glancing adoringly at a photo of Bukayo that adorns a wall every time he reports for training at the club’s Hale End academy.

Having embarked on a similar journey, Saka, just 10 years older, has not only illuminated Arsenal’s first team in the Premier League, but impressed so much that he was trusted to be a regular starter in Gareth Southgate’s Euros adventure.

His only error was to be brave enough and proud enough of his country to step up and take one of the most crucial spot-kicks in this nation’s footballing history.

Those moments, as Gianluigi Donnarumma palmed away Saka’s kick, repelled Sancho’s effort and watched Rashford’s strike the post, resulted in racist abuse as inevitable as it was abhorrent. Saka, Rashford and Sancho repaid for their patriotism, pride and professionalism with bile and hate.

“Racism is not just football’s problem, it’s society’s problem,” Apple told Kick N Mix, our kids and grassroots football newsletter.

“What we need to be very aware of is the message it sends out to young boys like Amari and the next generations coming through.

“That to me is the biggest and most significant impact of what’s gone on.

“We try to protect him from the ugly side of the world, but what am I – as a Dad and a black man who has had to live with this racism for so long – supposed to say to him?

“How do we as grown adults even begin to try to rationalise racism, let alone a nine-year-old boy?

“My first thought when the three players, three black players, missed those penalties was this. Any black people watching in pubs and BoxParks that night need to leave right now because we know what’s coming.”

Several days on, Apple and Amari have been encouraged by the overwhelmingly positive response to their tweet – a tweet that at the time of writing has garnered 27,000 likes and more than 3,500 retweets.

It prompted dad and lad to post a video of Amari honing his skills with the following message: “As a thank you for all the nice comments, little man has asked me to show you all how hard he’s working to earn that call up, and he wants you all to know when the time comes he’ll be honoured to represent his country.”

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The outpouring of love and goodwill towards Amari – and indeed Saka, Rashford and Sancho – doesn’t in any way make up for the fact that bigoted morons still peddle their ignorant views, but Apple is heartened by the rising movement of people finally willing to challenge and speak out against discrimination.

“It made us smile when people sent us so many nice messages of support but it hasn’t changed my views on the problem,” he explained.

Amari Westcott with father, coach and grassroots football enthusiast, Apple.

“What it did show me is that there are a lot of people trying to do the right thing, there are a lot of people trying to bring about positive changes.

“We’re still a long, long way away but people are trying. Good people are trying and that effort and that determination to keep this on the agenda and to say ‘No, this is not acceptable, we won’t allow it’ is all we can ask for.”

As a grassroots aficionado, an experienced coach and a Dad who believes in the power of sport to educate society, Apple believes football has a vital part to play in the fight against racism. Not just at Wembley and in the Premier League, but on the parks pitches and playgrounds across the country.

“Everybody who plays and follows football is also part of society,” he added. “Whatever people learn at football they will carry through life.

“It is the perfect place to pass on these life lessons. If you teach someone to be dishonest in football they will be dishonest in life.

“If you show them how to be loving and caring in football they will be loving and caring in life.

“You can still be loving and caring and competitive. If you knock someone down you help them back up.”

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