Former premier league referee urges people to come together to support Sheffield’s struggling communities
A former premier league football referee is using his role as chair of the local county football association, to address the inequalities that ‘now stick out’ in communities around Sheffield.
Uri Rennie has been in the role at Sheffield & Hallamshire FA since last year but he is determined to do more than ‘talk the talk’ in trying to use football as a vehicle to bring about change.
Having grown up in the Wybourn area of Sheffield himself, he is aware that communities who live in such areas generally struggle more, have less opportunities available to them and suffer from higher levels of stress.
Uri said: “To be affected by mental health issues is not a choice that we make. How we choose to deal with the individual concerned is.
“Football is ideally placed to help in a sensitive, empathetic and resourceful way.
“For me, not doing anything to identify and address this emerging health issue is not an option.”
Uri told how Wybourn was not the most affluent area to grow up in, but there was ‘a real sense of community’.
Despite living in North Sheffield now, he still has connections in Wybourn and he still feels a sense of responsibility to the community that supported him.
When he was younger, Uri attended a local youth club and it was a youth leader there that encouraged him and became his role model, allowing him to become the premier league referee he later became known as.
Uri, who is now approaching 12 years of retirement from refereeing, believes that role models may be somewhat lacking for young people today.
Research suggests that the lack of role models may contribute to people not wanting to reach their goals, or settling for less than they think they can achieve.
Uri explained: “I fell into refereeing but it opened a lot more doors.
“I’m glad, as it has given me the opportunity to stand and say these are my experiences and this is what’s been promised.
“A lot of things are ingrained in the system nationally. There are a great deal of opportunities where we are missing out.
“For a person that comes from a certain area or background, the opportunity to get to the top is blocked.”
Uri told how it was ‘not just one battle’, but highlighted that as the chair of Sheffield & Hallamshire FA, he would be making changes and trying to ensure that football is as accessible to everyone as it should be.
He believes accountability and transparency are important in ensuring that actions are matched.
Uri has always sought fairness in the work that he does, both career wise and in the community.
He said: “All sectors need respect. Everyone needs to understand that just because you’re different, you’re not less of a person.”
Fairness was a reason why he pursued his refereeing career until retirement and also why he became a magistrate in 1996.
It is widely known that Uri remains the last black referee in the Premier League and there is still similar under representation for many other occupations.
It is a concern, and one that Uri does not want his own children to have to face.
He believes that although the larger vehicle for change comes from within a system, opportunities to be involved on the outside should be taken up, with the optimism that things can move, even by a small percentage.
Uri said: “You should be able to do what you want to do. If you are part of the society then you should have the same right.
“No one should define you.”
He added: “People have preconceived ideas and its trying to remove that.
“We have all had an opportunity and can do more.”
Uri wants to use his role as chair to drive change but he believes that he needs others to help him get further.
He said: “Change can happen if we come together. It is something that can be done.”
Uri believes the coronavirus pandemic has highlighted the divide in society even more and it is those ‘individuals on the edge of society’ that he particularly wants to provide more help and support to.
For some neighbourhoods in Sheffield, for example, in Pitsmoor and Darnall, there has been a real hunger and food issue, and food banks have been a lifeline for some residents.
This trend is replicated in other areas of South Yorkshire too, for example, in Doncaster.
Deprived neighbourhoods often come hand in hand with increased mental health issues - something Uri has already identified as a ‘massive issue’.
Although Sheffield & Hallamshire FA is already working with mental health charity, Sheffield Mind, it wants to focus a lot more on mental health and wellbeing.
Uri said: “I’m very conscious that children are coming through the system facing pressures about who they are.
“We’re trying to put systems in place - be advocates for them.”
He explained: “More resources have been identified. We can always do more.”
Uri spoke of how many people are often prepared for change ‘but it doesn’t happen’.
He suggested that getting involved seven hours a week or even just a couple of hours, is still an opportunity to join in by a meaningful way.
Uri urged: “We have got to keep talking.
“We’re not going to change the world in a day but we can set a good example.”
If you want to help Uri, email: [email protected]