THE ugly face of racism has marred Wagga's soccer grand final, with Lake Albert's goal-scoring hero admitting spectator taunts had made his side's victory bittersweet.
Fred Gardner was too busy scoring two premiership-winning goals to hear the heckling in the Pascoe Cup grand final on Sunday night.
But when the Iraq-born, bilingual player checked his Twitter feed, surrounded by teammates at the after-party, he was devastated. Several crowd members reported that fans had yelled, “go run a kebab shop,” and “if you can’t speak English, go home,” during the game.
And, on what should have been an uplifting night, Gardner was upset.
That's just sad, aren't we all the same?
“I was like, really?” he said.
“That's just sad, aren’t we all the same? It’s not just me, even the African boys were attacked at the start of the season. We’re living in the best country in the world. Just let them be.”
Gardner migrated to Australia as a boy, attained citizenship and has lived, studied and worked in Wagga for most of his life.
He tolerates sledging, but he cannot stand the thought of having his friends and family privy to nasty remarks.
“Whatever goes on in the game stays in the game, between players, you know,” he said.
“It doesn’t fase me. But my family were out there as well, for them to hear that, it hurt my feelings.”
Gardner was intending on playing in the Pascoe Cup competition next year, but now he’s having second thoughts.
Football Wagga maintains that five officials patrolling the ground did not overhear racist remarks, including Dean Pinney.
“He (Pinney) did have to calm the crowd down, but he wasn’t responding specifically to racist comments,” president Erwin Budde said.
“Ground officials didn’t need to respond to any issues of that nature.”