A SOMERSET actor who has written a play about racism in English football has revealed she dreaded the start of games because of booing when players took the knee.

Hannah Kumari, 38, said the "counter-protests" last year in which groups targeted Black Lives Matter supporters gave her the idea to write about her experiences as a mixed-race football fan.

"It got to a point where I did dread the beginning of games because you wondered what’s going to happen," Kumari told the PA news agency.

"In the Euros, I went to watch a game across the road on a big screen and I was feeling nervous because where I live now in Frome, it is a predominantly white town.

"But everyone clapped and cheered (when the players took the knee) and it made me feel quite emotional."

Kumari, who was brought up in Rugby, Warwickshire, started writing her play, ENG-ER-LAND, a year earlier. 

The play – which will tour England from February 16 to April 2 – reflects on her experiences, and she hopes it will reach those people who criticised the BLM movement.

She has described taking the knee as "a beautiful and powerful gesture".

"As I started to write it, I felt that there were themes in there that hopefully a lot of people would identify with," she said.

"I wanted to make a piece that was fun and uplifting, and also a celebration of my love of football which might find some common ground."

Somerset County Gazette: ENG-ER-LAND: The play, directed by Rikki Beadle-Blair MBE, will tour the country from February to April (Image: Hannah Kumari)ENG-ER-LAND: The play, directed by Rikki Beadle-Blair MBE, will tour the country from February to April (Image: Hannah Kumari)

ENG-ER-LAND combines storytelling, dance and music with 1990s nostalgia and tackles themes of racism, identity politics, lad culture, and working-class masculinity.

It is set a year after the Euro 96 tournament and looks back at the summer when football almost came home.

"I remember that as being the year that I fell in love with football," said Kumari, whose father is from Scotland and mother is from India.

Kumari said she did not experience racism while following her club, Coventry City, as a young supporter, but she remembers attending a game with her father in which Ian Wright was targeted with abuse in the late 1990s.

She said: "We’d go on holiday to Scotland a lot and he took me to a friendly which was Rangers against Arsenal.

"There was a lot of racist abuse being shouted at Ian Wright. Like very clear.

"I remember being quite scared. As a young mixed-race girl, especially."

Kumari believes there has been an improvement in behaviour on the terraces, but she believes it was a "sad inevitability" that racist abuse was aimed at Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka after they missed their Euro 2020 final penalties against Italy. 

"I think I’m someone that I will always try to see the positive and it was great to see the reaction in Manchester with the mural," she said.

The mural of Rashford in the Withington area of Manchester was created to pay tribute to the forward’s work to help tackle child food poverty.

It was vandalised after he missed his spot-kick, but locals then posted messages of support for the Manchester United player before it was restored.

One of ENG-ER-LAND's core themes is Englishness - something its director Rikki Beadle-Blair has spoken about, saying: "You support England, but does England really support you?”.

Kumari said: "It is a really powerful quote and one I’ve reflected on.

"I started writing the play last summer and it’s been further informed by the tournament this summer and looking back to 1996 and what’s changed – and what hasn’t changed."

For more details about the ENG-ER-LAND tour – supported by the Football Supporter’s Association – visit www.wolab.co.uk/eng-er-land