Irish underage international Leo Gaxha has opened up on the alleged racist abuse he suffered when returning to his hometown of Tralee, Co. Kerry in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.
The 18-year-old is currently on the books at Premier League club Sheffield United, and was born in Kerry to Albanian parents, with Gaxha representing Ireland at U16 and U17 level, as well as Albania’s U18s more recently.
With football leagues across Europe suspended, Gaxha returned to Ireland and took the time to put in some training on his own during the crisis.
— Sheffield United Development (@sufcdevelopment) October 30, 2019
Speaking in an interview with Radio Kerry’s Terrace Talk, Gaxha outlined that during this, a man approached him and told him to “go back to his own country” as the 17-year-old attempted to train.
“At the start, I went and trained at the KDL [Kerry District League pitches]; for the first few days, I was allowed to train there,’ he began.
“It got to one day, I went and trained there and I was told to get off the pitch. There were other kids there as well, I said to myself that I wasn’t going to argue.
“So, I just went to Dynamos to train. While I was there, training away and minding my own business – I’m not going to name his name because he’s probably listening to this – a certain man decides to come over, says some stuff to me and then decides to racially abuse me.
“He told me to go back to my own country and I’m there thinking to myself, ‘What’s my country? I was born here, raised here. I’ve represented this country five times’. I’m Irish as far as I’m concerned. It’s 2020, times have got to change.
“I was shocked, but at the same time, I didn’t argue with the man. I said, ‘Listen, he might be having a bad day’. It’s unacceptable to racially abuse people but I said I wasn’t going to say anything to him.
“When he went away, I just said to myself that makes me stronger because if people are saying to me, they must be saying it for a reason, they must hate me for a reason.
Gaxha is highly rated at Bramall Lane after signing his first professional contract earlier this month and managed to break into the U23s this season while also featuring for the Blades’ U18s side.
He continued outlining that the incident will push him to work harder however he admitted that the incident is “unacceptable” for Kerry soccer.
“That’s going to give me a bit of fire. That’s still at the back of my mind. That will stay with me for the rest of my life. Not only was I there but I had a little brother who’s nine-years-old there watching me train. That’s going to stay with me for life. When I do play, and I will play in the Premier League, that will be a big factor for me – that’s pushed me, made me angry and train hard to prove people wrong.
“I’m not a person to hold grudges, I’ll take apologies, but for Kerry soccer, it’s unacceptable; I want to see Kerry soccer in the next 10-15 years [with] more kids like me getting an opportunity to realise their dreams.”