Boreham Wood keeper Nathan Ashmore on racism, bullying and counselling

By Neil JohnstonBBC Sport
Nathan Ashmore in action when he was at Ebbsfleet United in a National League match against Dagenham & Redbridge
Nathan Ashmore's former clubs include Havant & Waterlooville, Gosport Borough and Ebbsfleet United

As Boreham Wood's goalkeeper, Nathan Ashmore is a reassuring and commanding presence between the posts for the National League club.

Away from football, he is doting father to two-year-old Naevia - and a powerful voice when it comes to speaking out about the racist abuse he has suffered since he was at primary school.

As a black child growing up in Portsmouth in the 1990s, Ashmore was bullied, chased and attacked.

He is already braced for a hard but important conversation about racism with his daughter when she is older.

"I look at her and she's beautiful," Ashmore, 30, tells BBC Sport before his side's FA Cup second-round tie against Canvey Island on Monday.

"But I know she's going to be bullied when she grows up because of the colour of her skin. My job is to educate her, let her know it's not her fault and reassure her she's not alone."

Ashmore has been chased by someone wielding a scaffolding pole, attacked on the pitch by a fan and beaten up in the street.

While he was still a primary school pupil, someone placed a sign outside his bedroom window with a racist slur written on it and, throughout his life, he has been the victim of racist verbal abuse.

"A lot of people won't have this happen to them - and they won't have a clue how it feels," he adds.

'I had to stand up for myself'

Growing up with his mother, Jayne, in Buckland, a residential area of the port city of Portsmouth, Ashmore plastered his bedroom walls with Pompey posters.

He had decided from an early age he wanted to be a keeper after watching Peter Schmeichel, who was part of the all-conquering Manchester United side of the 90s, on television.

Ashmore was 10 when he attended his first Portsmouth match at Fratton Park, a second-tier game against Bolton. By then, he had already been subjected to racism by parents while playing for his local team and was being bullied by a gang of children who roamed the streets of Buckland.

Nathan Ashmore pictured with his mum, Jayne, growing up in Portsmouth, alongside a recent picture of them together
Nathan Ashmore pictured with his mum, Jayne, growing up in Portsmouth (left) and a recent picture of them together

Soon after, Ashmore signed schoolboy terms with Portsmouth and played in a team that included Joel Ward, now at Crystal Palace, and Newcastle United's Matt Ritchie.

The bullying from other children continued.

"My mum would say: 'You have to stand up for yourself,'" recalls Ashmore. "Eventually I did. I had a few fights but my first was quite a spectacle. There were 30 kids in a circle, people were watching from the front doors of their homes.

"The person I was fighting was part of a gang that would chase me. I had to fight him to stand up for myself."

Several years later, Ashmore would confront the bully, who he had his first fight with, at a house party.

'I couldn't take it any more'

Not long after that fight, Ashmore, who was still at primary school, was chased by another member of the gang who was carrying a scaffolding pole.

"He was screaming at me to stop and fight him. I started crying and ran home," he remembers.

Abuse, insults and racism have followed him into senior football.

While playing for Ebbsfleet United at Eastleigh in April 2018, Ashmore was subjected to racist abuse from a fan,external-link who was arrested, fined and banned from attending Eastleigh games.

Nine months later, he was attacked by a fan on the pitch at Chesterfield. While there was no proven racial motive behind the attack, Chesterfield issued stadium bans totalling 16 years to three supporters following an investigation.

Recalling that incident, he says: "I've been used to people attacking me all my life. He aimed a punch or a kick. I got out of the situation quickly."

It was around that time Ashmore sought help. He considered quitting football and started counselling sessions.

"One of my best attributes as a goalkeeper is that I'm mentally strong," he says.

"But I had reached a stage where I couldn't take any more. Getting bullied growing up because of the colour of my skin, getting abused at games, social media abuse after games, it was all too much for me.

"Counselling is the best thing I have done. If you ever find yourself low or overthinking things, talk to someone."

Nathan Ashmore in action for his former club Ebbsfleet United against Dagenham & Redbridge in the National League in April 2019
Nathan Ashmore played in the 2014 FA Trophy final at Wembley for Gosport Borough against Cambridge United

'Talk about racism - don't shy away from it'

As a father, Ashmore worries about the future his daughter faces. Racism, he says, will not go away in his lifetime.

Kind gestures, like the Bury fan who sent him a Christmas card after hearing his story on the radio, give him hope.

"Things are changing but they are not changing fast enough," he says. "What we can do is talk about it, highlight it, not shy away from it."

What about the gesture involving Premier League players taking a knee before games in support of Black Lives Matter?

"At the beginning it was one of the most powerful things I have seen," says Ashmore. "Now it's time to move on and think of something else.

"It has got to the stage now where you have to do it - I feel it has lost its power."

Despite a traumatic childhood, Ashmore has stayed in Portsmouth, where he lives with his partner, Samantha, and their daughter. His mother lives nearby.

"I still love Portsmouth," says Ashmore, who is hoping to propel Boreham Wood into the third round of the FA Cup for the first time.

"It's disgusting what happened but it only made me stronger."

So what happened when Ashmore confronted the bully from his past at the house party?

"I went up to the one I had a fight with and asked: 'Why did you do it?' He didn't know what to say. He just shrugged his shoulders and said: 'I don't know.'"

If you, or someone you know, have been affected by any issues raised in this article, support and information is available at BBC Action Line.