English 'hooligan' goes to Edinburgh

Jonathan Salt is standing on the Royal Mile, draped in an England flag. Heather Neill reports on a former teacher suffering for his art at the Fringe

FORMER teacher Jonathan Salt is getting used to aggression in his new job - acting.

He has faced verbal abuse, jostling, intimidation and spitting since he arrived at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe to perform an anti-racist play, My England, about football hooliganism. So far, audiences have been polite; it is in the street that Mr Salt has run into trouble.

Along with thousands of other performers he goes out to drum up custom on the Royal Mile in costume, wearing St George's cross face make-up and with an England flag knotted around his shoulders.

Some Scots have taken him literally. "I get banter - things like 'Brazil 2:1' chanted, I've been jostled and shouted at, including by a group of 14-year-old girls who were very abusive, and even spat at me. The worst was the other day when a guy said 'Your flag is shite. I'd like to put a knife through your heart.' That was quite frightening."

Mr Salt was accompanied at the time by black actor Willan Ferguson, also in the play, so there could be no suggestion he sympathised with the British National Party; the aggression is entirely anti-English.

Until the end of term Mr Salt taught German and was assistant head of Year 9 at St Peter's school in Huntingdon. He says he has found it instructive to play a character who describes being told off by a teacher about his haircut. "Ant (the England fan) has never been treated with respect." This is where the seeds of his anti-social behaviour lie.

The play is endorsed by the Show Racism a Red Card campaign, and is the third in a series of pieces that aims to combat racism in football. It has been well received in Cambridgeshire schools and counts FIFA and the Scottish Professional Footballers' Association among its sponsors.

But another sponsor, Railtrack, has decided not to put up posters for the show at Edinburgh's Waverley Station, in order to avoid possible confrontations.

The cast share a love of teaching. The third member of the cast, Lynda Norris, who plays a policewoman, is about to start a PGCE course, while Mr Salt insists he will not quit the profession.

He said: "I'm going to do supply. I love it, and I'll need to earn some money between acting jobs." He has had to cope with the odd case of racism between pupils; no doubt his own experience will provide an extra insight in future.

My England has been shortlisted for an Amnesty International Freedom of Expression Award.

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