Footballer joins fight against cuts

RALLYING SUPPORT ... former footballer Richard Offiong.
RALLYING SUPPORT ... former footballer Richard Offiong.

A FORMER footballer from South Tyneside is proving that members of his old profession do care about the impact austerity measures are having on ordinary people.

A South Tyneside branch of the People’s Assembly Against Austerity is being launched this week at the Lord Ashley pub in Stanhope Road, South Shields.

The group aims to highlight the impact the Government’s reforms to the welfare system and cuts to public services are having in the borough.

And one man putting his full weight behind the gathering is former footballer Richard Offiong.

He hopes his involvement will give the lie to the common perception that sportsmen and women are not interested in political and social campaigning.

He said: “We warmly invite and encourage anyone who has been affected by the Government cuts and feels strongly about the issues, to show support and add their voice by joining us in this very necessary fight.

“Meetings are relaxed and informal and provide a safe and supportive place to initiate plans for action.

“I know it’s a million miles away from my former line of work, but it’s something I feel strongly and passionately about.

“These cuts impact on us all in the region. There is a record of sports figures becoming politically active, such as Vitali Klitschko in Ukraine.

“In football, there is former Barcelona and French international Lilian Thuram, so it’s not unprecedented. I’m also hoping to get some other ex-players involved in this campaign.”

South Shields-born Richard is a former England under-20 international and Newcastle United youth striker who enjoyed a much-travelled career.

The 30-year-old has retired from football but is actively involved in the North Tyneside-based Show Racism the Red Card campaign.

He was a youth player for Newcastle from 1999 to 2002, forming a strike partnership with Michael Chopra in many games, and was kept on their books for a further two years, though he never made a first-team appearance.

During his time at St James’s Park, he had loan spells at Darlington, Motherwell and York City.

He then had clubs in Turkey, South Korea and Belgium before returning to England to join Doncaster Rovers.

His best spell came in Scotland, where he scored 39 goals in 94 games for Hamilton Academical before he returned south of the border to join Carlisle United.

Other clubs have included Ostersunds of Sweden, Australia’s Oakleigh Cannons and Johor FA of Malaysia.

He also turned out for North-East non-league sides Gateshead and Blyth Spartans, and then more recently was on the books of Durham City.

The People’s Assembly Against Austerity was launched by trade unionists and other campaigners in London last year.

Now, groups are being formed across the region to oppose the cuts and support co-ordinated industrial action and public demonstrations.

The event, on Thursday at the Lord Ashley, begins at 7.30pm.

Anyone affected by cuts, or who feels strongly about the measures, is invited to go along.

Organiser Matthew Giles said: “The goal is to harness the energy and creativity of the people of South Tyneside to have our voices heard about the devastating impact of Government decisions.”

Twitter: @shieldsgazpaul