A year ago today, Glen Kamara was in the depths of despair.
It was the morning after the horrendous night before when Rangers had been knocked out of the Europa League by Slavia Prague but it wasn’t the result that had torn a chunk out of the midfielder’s soul.
“Being called a ‘f***ing monkey’ by Czech defender Ondrej Kudela had done that.
Kudela protested his innocence but was banned for 10 games by UEFA. Kamara got a three game suspension for an incident in the tunnel afterwards which had the Slavia player claiming he’d been assaulted.
One year on, Kamara has had time to reflect. And there are regrets. The biggest of which is not walking off the pitch the moment Kudela abused him. It’s not a mistake he’ll make again, he insists.
The Finnish international revisited the incident on Friday, the first anniversary.
He has moved on in a playing sense; a last eight tie in the Europa League against Braga to look forward to and in the thick of a monumental title race.
But the 26-year-old can’t fully move on from the night that put him front and center of a storm that made headlines across the globe. And from which he STILL receives racist abuse on social media.
“Let’s say there is any news that comes out about me or him (Kudela), they will tag me in or DM me,” he told Sky Sports. “It’s every now and then, probably way less than it was before, but they still pop up and message me or comment on my pictures or whatever. That incident, definitely, I’ve got to live with it.
“I wouldn’t say I have nightmares, but I’ve thought about it, definitely. When I go back to London for example, people might not recognize me as a Rangers footballer. They recognize me as ‘you’ve been racially abused, I saw you on TV’.
“I remember going back to one of my friend’s burger shops, which he owns. A guy came in and he was looking at me a couple of times.
“He was like ‘are you that guy that got racially…?’ I was like “yeah, that’s me”. But he didn’t recognize me from football, he recognized me from that situation.”
Kamara admits to feeling ’embarrassed’ when Kudela’s comments registered with him. He still does not know why that emotion should have been so strong, but that, and an emotional conversation with his mum will live long in his memory of him.
Looking back on that Ibrox night, he added: “It was getting a bit hostile. I think there was a foul on one of their players right in front of me and everyone has rushed over, like, “ref, yellow card… da, da, da”.
“We’re going back and forth with some of the players and I’m just like, “shut up”, to the boy. He said “shut up” back to me and I was like “oh, big man”. Just bantering it off.
“He was like “one second, my friend”. He came over and whispered what he whispered into my ear and, yes, I reacted. Everyone could see the shock on my face when it happened.
“My team-mate, Bongani Zungu, was there and I heard it. So many emotions ran through my head at the time. Probably anger, embarrassment in a way, which there shouldn’t be.
“We are on a football pitch. If I heard it from a fan, I would take it in a bit more. From a player … how should that happen, why should that happen? It shouldn’t.
“So a lot of different emotions were going through my head. The manager (Steven Gerrard) spoke to me and he was saying “do you want to come off the pitch?” But I couldn’t hear him.
“He kept shouting my name – and I’m right next to him – but I couldn’t hear anything. I just had tunnel vision. What is going on? How did that just happen? It was on TV, my family, my friends are watching… it’s embarrassing that someone just said that to me and got away with it.
“I was so angry and I felt a bit embarrassed. Why am I feeling embarrassed? I’m here like everyone else playing a game. Why am I feeling like this? At the time, it was just how I felt. I don’t know. It’s hard to explain.
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“I got home late. There were a lot of calls. She (mum) was upset, asking me how I am, just really trying to comfort me. You’re going to be OK, it’s alright. Don’t worry. You’ve done me so proud. She’s always been there for me, always supported me throughout my journey.
“It’s not nice. That’s what probably brings the whole embarrassment feeling. Anger, disappointment. It’s not easy, but I know, when I step on that field, I’m always going to try and make her proud of her. ”
Asked if he wishes now that he’d walked off, Kamara said: “I kind of wish I had, knowing it would put the competition in a place where it was, like, what do we do here? Do we kick them out? Do we give Rangers a bye?
“It would put them in a situation they had probably never been in. Not many players have actually walked off. I kind of wish I did.”
And when asked by interviewer Marvin Bartley, the Livingston assistant manager, if he’d walk off in the future, the Rangers player said simply: “Yeah.”
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.