'Racists jumped over the school fences wielding machetes' - Cyrus Christie
Cyrus Christie tells Liam Kelly about his tough childhood and his Euros ambitions
Published 07/06/2016 | 02:30
Cyrus Christie has no reason to fear any winger, no matter how skilful, who tries to trick his way past the Derby County and Republic of Ireland defender.
Christie takes his career and his game as seriously as any professional, but football is a piece of cake compared with seeing hate-filled racists climbing the fence of his school wielding knives and machetes.
That experience and others like it could not be avoided as part of his growing up in Coventry.
His uncle, Errol Christie, former British amateur middleweight champion who later turned professional, had it much worse, both inside and outside the ring.
Errol's infamous 1985 clash with Mark Kaylor at Wembley Arena was conducted amid racist chants and boos. Bananas were thrown into the ring, and a huge police presence assembled to deal with skirmishes inside and outside the arena.
Kaylor hailed from West Ham and was backed by the football club's supporters, including their notorious 'Inter City Firm'.
Cyrus Christie was not born then, but he has heard enough from his uncle about Errol's experience to know that it was tougher being black in the '70s and '80s in the English Midlands - but only to a degree.
"It was still quite racist in my time," he said. "Where I went to school, it was bang in the middle of two racist areas.
"There used to be a lot of race wars. A lot of people jumped in over the fences with knives and machetes. At one time someone tried to spray detergent in a lad's eye and tried to stab him to blind him. That's just the way it was.
"It did gradually get better as we went on. It is a lot better now. There's a lot more diversity. It was obviously quite worse in my uncle's time."
Things can still be bad now. Errol Christie, now 52, was, in his nephew's words, "jumped by a bunch of armed police, mistaking him for a criminal" about 18 months ago.
For some weeks afterwards, Errol had difficulty breathing and when he got it checked, the doctors discovered he had cancer of lungs which has spread into other areas of his body.
The ex-boxer is battling the disease, and maintains a positive attitude. He keeps in touch with his nephew and will follow his progress in the European Championships.
"He appreciates it. He's always following me and asking me what I'm doing," says Cyrus.
"He goes on about how good a footballer he was, but goes on more about the fights than the actual playing. He loves to see people doing really well."
The Derby defender (23) has indeed done well to clinch his place on the plane which carries the Ireland squad to France tomorrow for the Euro 2016 adventure.
First capped in the friendly against the USA in November 2014, he has played five times in the green jersey, and has his sights set on a regular place.
Christie qualifies through his maternal grandmother, and Steve Guppy, a member of Martin O'Neill's coaching team, played a role in bringing the defender into the fold.
"Steve's wife is good mates with my cousin's wife, so that's how it kind of came about," explains Christie.
"It came about at Coventry when I was a bit younger, but nothing ever followed through.
"But once I was in the set-up with the first team, that's when I went to Derby, and they took more interest. I was playing well and I came on board," said Christie.
Everton's Seamus Coleman has set the standard at right-back, and pushing the Donegal man for the jersey is a formidable challenge.
"I'm not here just to make up the numbers, but I've a big task in front of me with Seamus, who's been probably the best right-back in the Premier League for the past amount of years," concedes Christie.
"He's a great guy, a really nice guy. He's talking to me about how did I do, and what can I do better, and what I did well, and what I didn't do well. That's fantastic help from him, because he plays at the highest level."