Ex-manager of English soccer team Crawley Town suspended 15 months for racist behavior toward players

Former Crawley Town FC manager John Yems has been banned from English soccer until June of 2024 for his racist behavior.

An independent commission banned Yems earlier this month after he was found to have credibly committed at least a dozen instances of racist conduct toward players he coached. The investigation into Yems’ conduct began in May after he was suspended in late April following “serious and credible” accusations of racist behavior.

Shortly after another investigation began by the English players’ association when numerous Crawley Town players came forward with allegations against Yems, the fourth-tier club parted ways with him on May 6, 2022.

Yems was found guilty of the accusations on Jan. 6 and the English Football Association released a detailed list of the charges against him this week. The document details myriad instances of racism against players of varying backgrounds and nationalities.

The instances of racism and Islamophobia

Yems had been the manager of Crawley Town since 2019 and the document said that much of Yems’ documented racist behavior came after the cancellation of the end of the 2019-20 season because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Yems was accused of 16 instances of racist behavior. He admitted one of the allegations and denied the other 15. The panel found that 11 of the 15 allegations he denied were credible.

The first documented instance of Yems’ behavior is from a Nigerian player. The player said Yems would ask him if he would eat “jerk chicken” in an apparent assumption that the player was of Caribbean descent. The player also recalled an instance “when he was playing darts in the canteen with Player 2, another Black player, when Mr. Yems asked what they were doing playing darts when people like them normally blow sharp objects through their mouths” before making a reference to Zulu warriors.

CRAWLEY, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 30: John Yems, Manager of Crawley Town looks on prior to the Sky Bet League Two match between Crawley Town and Port Vale at The People's Pension Stadium on October 30, 2021 in Crawley, England. (Photo by Steve Bardens/Getty Images)
John Yems coached Crawley Town from 2019-22. (Photo by Steve Bardens/Getty Images)

The same player also said that Yems would mispronounce Arnold Schwarzenegger’s last name to make it sound like a racial slur. A second Black player said that Yems would make similar inquiries about jerk chicken to him.

Yems would also refer to a player of Asian descent as a “curry muncher” and mock him about eating curry. Another player detailed the half-Indian and half-Irish player mocked for his ethnicity and “on one occasion when the players were eating pizzas from a sponsor Domino’s Pizzas, Mr. Yems asked him if he was upset there was no curry pizza.”

An Iraqi Muslim who played for Yems said that Yems would joke about him being a “terrorist.” Per the report, he said Yems would ask “if he slept with an AK47, and told that he could not have a GPS vest ‘because you people blow up stuff in vests.’” The player said that Yems would also repeatedly ask if he carried a bomb in his bag.

Why wasn’t Yems’ ban longer?

The length of Yems’ ban from coaching soccer was immediately a source of scrutiny because of the language used to justify the relatively short suspension. Even the FA said it disagreed with the length of the ban.

The independent panel said that Yems didn’t get a longer suspension because it was “confident that Mr. Yems as a person is not a racist” and that he didn’t “ever intend to make racist remarks.” It also describes him as a man who is “of jocular disposition” and out of touch with current times while he likely “gave no thought at all to the effect of his language on those at whom the ‘jokes’ were aimed.”

“Mr. Yems is a man of jocular disposition,” the panel wrote. “His aim is to encourage bonding among players by cracking jokes and joining in fun with them. He constantly sought to get a laugh from some, regardless of the effect of his words on others. Secondly, Mr. Yems describes himself as ‘old school’ and someone who is not concerned with the niceties of political correctness. It is fair to say that he has no appreciation that much of the sort of language which might have been in common usage some 40 or 50 years ago has no place in modern society.”

The FA said Wednesday that it disagreed with the decision to ban Yems until June and that it had requested a longer ban against the coach. The anti-racism group Kick It Out also came out strongly against the brevity of the ban.

“The behavior outlined in the report must be called out for exactly what it is; racism and Islamophobia," Kick It Out said in a statement. "To speak plainly, a 15-month ban given the severity of the 11 proven charges is a slap in the face to the victims of the discriminatory abuse detailed in this report and anyone who has been subject to racism or Islamophobia.”