Former England star Shaun Wright-Phillips: Parents at football matches need to set a good example

The ex-Premier League pro and his rising star daughter talk to Camilla Foster about tackling hate and negativity in football.

Shaun Wright-Phillips is urging parents to remember they are role models
Close up shot of former Manchester City player Shaun Wright-Phillips ahead of the Premier League match at the Etihad Stadium Shaun Wright-Phillips is urging parents to remember they are role models (Mike Egerton/PA)

Manchester City legend Shaun Wright-Phillips has urged parents to set a good example for their kids, especially when it comes to toxic or hateful behaviour.

“As a parent, you should always want to be a role model or to shine a light down the right path for your child,” said the 42-year-old. “When there are kids around, you have to choose your words carefully, and when something does slip you should apologise.”

The former England star – son of Arsenal hero Ian Wright – said although he experienced abuse and racist remarks during his football career, he is still shocked at some of the behaviour he’s witnessed at his daughter Raphaella’s grassroots games.

This includes the 10-year-old, affectionately known as ‘Raphy’, being booed off the pitch in the past.

Shaun Wright-Phillips sat next to his daughter Raphaella
Shaun Wright-Phillips sat next to his daughter Raphaella

Speaking alongside her footballer father, the youngster recalled: “I was playing for this grassroots team and the parents were booing me off the pitch when I got injured.

“If someone is getting injured, we all go and see if they are alright and help them up and do the best we can to support them, all of our players,” she added of how she and her teammates handle such situations. “Even if the other team are being rude to us, we don’t say anything, because it would just be rude. We just let them think what they want to think, and play on the best we can.”

Wright-Phillips and Raphaella, who signed a youth contract with Arsenal last year, have both teamed up with EE on its new Hate. Not In My Shirt campaign, which calls on fans to be proud supporters and stand together to challenge hate in football.

A YouGov survey commissioned on behalf of the campaign found more than a third (37%) of children said they’d experienced hate. In addition, 38% of the 1245 kids surveyed, aged from six to 15 years, said that they will copy adults’ behaviour if they saw it was positively reinforced – even if they think it’s wrong.

This is why proud dad Wright-Phillips believes parents have a responsibility to be role models for their children, and should take more accountability for how they act around them.

“I think it [hate] has always been in the sport in many ways,” said Wright-Phillips, who defines hate as “negativity and toxic behaviour” which, in the context of football, usually comes about when someone’s team isn’t performing well.

“Personally, I have faced racial abuse and have seen kids copying their parents while the team bus is driving past them. I would say where it has got worse is at the kids’ grassroots games, with some of the parents and some of their behaviour,” he adds.

“This campaign isn’t saying you can’t be upset or frustrated with the way your team is playing. It is saying that there is a better way to show it and handle it.”

Shaun Wright-Phillips playing a pre-season friendly match at Queens Park Rangers in 2014
Shaun Wright-Phillips playing a pre-season friendly match at Queens Park Rangers in 2014 (Adam Davy/PA)

The former Premier League winger believes social media has exacerbated the issue.

“The difference between now and when I first started out is that social media is around. It has opened doors and pathways so that people feel like they can just say anything they want to say directly,” he said.

His daughter’s Instagram account has more than 15K followers but is run by her parents, to protect her from what he calls the “keyboard warriors”.

He hopes EE’s new campaign will create positive change, and highlight that online hate is an issue that needs fixing. Wright-Phillips suggested that more filters could be put on social media platforms to restrict what young children can access and view on them.

Recalling his own childhood, he said his mum, Sharon, always encouraged him to get back up when he fell down, physically and metaphorically, and to channel any hate into something positive – a lesson he has passed onto his daughter.

“I grew up in South London at a really bad time, so I was used to getting name called, being told I was never going to make it, but I always tried to turn the negatives into a positive and used it as my driving force on the pitch,” he explained.

“For example, I fell off the bike when I got released from Nottingham Forest, but I got back onto the bike and ended up signing for Manchester City. Raphy is similar on the pitch – when she gets booed, it just makes her want to work even harder.

“I am praying that if the campaign works in the way me, Raphy and EE want it to, then we are going to leave football fans and the game of sport in a better place for generations to come,” Wright-Phillips added. “Seeing fans cheer for their team, despite how the game is going, would be a beautiful moment to be around for.

“We want football to be a happier space for everybody, where you can come and bring your kids and not worry about any negativity. It is all a work in progress… to ensure that football fans become better down the years, and better people in general.”

Raphaella added: “It’s really important to stop hate, online and in real life, so that kids like me can enjoy football and feel safe.

“We should all be kind and support each other, because that’s what being a football fan is all about.”

For more information on how to become an #EEProudSupporter, and to learn how to stand with fans and tackle hate in football, visit