YOU would expect the sudden increase in incidents of racism at football matches across Europe this season to be deeply disheartening for somebody who has done so much to rid the game of its malign presence during their lifetime.

Yet Shaka Hislop, the former Newcastle United and West Ham goalkeeper who helped to launch the Show Racism the Red Card charity 23 years ago with an initial £50 donation and then a wealth of voluntary work, is far from despondent.

“They don’t demoralise me any,” he said. “I just get more motivated. I don’t think the need for campaigns like ours ever diminishes. It changes. The approach has to change. But the need never goes away.”

Hislop has seen the sport address and overcome similar and far greater problems in the past and he remains confident, despite the unsavoury events in Belgium, Bulgaria, England, Italy and Scotland in recent weeks, that it can do so once again.

He has been heavily involved in raising understanding of the issues which black, mixed race and ethnic minority footballers face and has, along with myriad like-minded others, succeeded in improving the conditions they play in significantly during the past three decades. He stresses that huge strides forward have been made.

The 50-year-old can remember what his childhood idols, trailblazers for black British players like Viv Anderson, John Barnes, Garth Crooks, Laurie Cunningham and Cyrille Regis, had to go through before him in a far less enlightened era in the 1970s and 1980s.

Indeed, their experiences are what inspired him to get involved in an educational charity which, after humble beginnings on North Tyneside, now has offices across the United Kingdom as well as in Ireland, Norway, Sweden, Finland and Denmark and is an instantly recognised and widely respected part of the modern game.

He points out the differences between the hate-filled environment those aforementioned pioneers played in – they had bananas hurled at them from the terraces, were abused by their own supporters and even had their very lives threatened - and that in which the current generation ply their trade are vast.

“It was bad when I started out,” said Hislop. “But I played with John Barnes and Newcastle United and he told me his stories from his early days at Watford and Liverpool and what he had to endure. The likes of Viv Anderson, Garth Crooks, Laurie Cunningham and Cyrille Regis were heroes of mine growing up and continue to be to this day. I knew their stories too.

“But I also understood the danger of being complacent and saying ‘well, it’s better now than it was 10 years ago’. As a debt to people who inspired me, I felt it was important to continue their work and not just rest on the improvement we had witnessed.

“They allowed me to be able to make a living from playing football and realise my own boyhood dream. The little role that I have to play makes sure that what those guys did for me wasn’t in vain.

“We have come a very long way. There is no denying the progress that has been seen. Not just through initiatives like Show Racism the Red Card, but through Kick It Out as well as a general increased understanding of race and racism.”

Alas, the recent spate of racist flashpoints at Bulgaria v England, Cagliari v Inter Milan, Haringay Borough v Yeovil Town, Manchester United v Liverpool and even Hearts v Rangers, have underlined that their battle is far from over and the need for initiatives like Show Racism the Red Card remains great.

“There is still a long way to go, even for some of the more progressive countries,” said Hislop. “It is not just about Bulgaria and the England national team, it is not just about Haringey Borough and Yeovil, it is not just about the lower leagues.

“Look at Manchester United. They are one of the world’s biggest clubs, but they also had an incident just last month (Liverpool and England player Trent Alexander-Arnold was abused by a fan at Old Trafford last month). It is not isolated. It shows that nobody is immune to the overspill of racism and those ideologies.”

Hislop, who is now a pundit with sports broadcaster ESPN in the United States, believes that both supporters and governing bodies can play a far greater role in ridding football of racism than they do at the moment.

“There is always more that can be done,” he said. “I always recognise the challenges in that. It is a minority, a rather vocal minority, and sometimes it is difficult in terms of policing those few individuals.

“But the majority can be far more vocal. The time has gone for a silent majority to sit back and just dismiss these attitudes and these incidents and say ‘well, we weren’t involved so we don’t bear any of the responsibility’. If they stay silent it is acceptance. Silence is consent as much as anything.

“I also believe the authorities have to be stronger. I applaud Manchester United for what they did (they ejected and banned the supporter indefinitely), how quickly they acted, how decisive they were in their actions. Where the game has let itself down is at a higher level. I don’t think FIFA or UEFA or any of the confederations are strong enough in their stance.

Sectarianism is more of an issue in this country than racism, but Hislop doesn't differentiate between the two. The UEFA punishments that Rangers were hit with earlier this season for their supporters’ bigoted chanting in Europa League qualifiers against St Joseph’s and Legia Warsaw suggest he has a point.

“The issues within Scotland are more sectarian in nature,” he said. “But there is a huge overlap there. Show Racism the Red Card deals with inequality of race. But any time we are dealing with inequality, be it gender, be it sexual preference, whatever it may be, the incidents go hand in hand.

“The sectarian issue in Scotland is part of who we are and part of the issue. A similar approach in Scotland when it comes to sectarianism will pay dividends as it does in racism.”

Show Racism the Red Card has certainly done a power of good since its inception. Hislop has witnessed first hand that attitudes and prejudices can be changed. He remains optimistic that football can triumph against the challenges it is currently facing. Indeed, he expects it to continue to lead the way.

“I look at what Show Racism the Red Card has become with some pride,” he said. “When we started it back in 1996 it was just me going around schools speaking to kids. My primary motivation then was to give back to the community. I felt I had a responsibility to do that as a footballer. It was a topic that obviously resonated with me. What it has become was the last thing on my mind when it started. I am still amazed at the success of it.

“Quite clearly, there was that need. I always felt that, in an effort to overcome racism, as much as it was a societal problem, football could lead the way. I was keen to use that platform to deal with a much larger issue. Football has that power.”