After years of racism, Danny Rose has had enough of football
England full-back feels little has changed since abuse suffered in Serbia seven years ago
Tempers flare after the Serbia under-21s and England under-21s match in 2012 during which Danny Rose was racially abused. Photo: Srdjan Stevanovic/Getty Images
To understand the anger, the frustration and, above all, the sense of resignation that engulfed Danny Rose on Wednesday night, in the aftermath of Tottenham’s 2-0 win over Crystal Palace that opened their new stadium in some style, it is necessary to go back.
It is October 16th, 2012. Rose is making his way in the Premier League, on loan from Spurs at Sunderland, and he is picked to play for England Under-21s against Serbia in the second leg of their European Championship play-off. The game takes place in the Serbian city of Krusevac and it is immediately apparent to Rose that it will be an ordeal.
“It started in the pre-match warm-up – monkey chanting [from the stands] straight away,” Rose said, at the time. “The first half was no way near as bad as the second half. I had two stones hit me in the head when I went to get the ball for a throw-in. Every time I touched the ball, I heard monkey chants. I was so angry and it was just so hard to concentrate.”
England would score a 94th-minute goal to secure a 2-0 aggregate victory and, when the full-time whistle went, there were ugly scenes. Missiles were thrown from the stands; players and staff from both sides came to blows and, for Rose, there were more monkey chants. He remembers being surrounded by Serbia players and “getting slapped twice”. Blood boiling, he grabbed the ball and booted it away.
What happened next? Obviously, Rose was shown a red card. Kicking the ball away after full time is, of course, a grave offence and it is essential that those in power clamp down on bad behaviour. So, bravo, referee. The Serbian Football Association provided a further footnote. It angrily denied its fans were guilty of racist behaviour and, instead, condemned Rose as the agent provocateur, describing him as “inappropriate, unsportsmanlike and vulgar”.
The trauma of that night has stayed with Rose and he admits it was in his thoughts when he travelled to Montenegro with England for last week’s Euro 2020 qualifying tie. Rose did not only prepare to play, he prepared to face racist abuse. He feared the worst because of Montenegro’s proximity to Serbia and he was right to do so. The monkey chants started in the first half and they were at their loudest when he was booked for a foul in the 93rd minute.
Rose has asked himself a lot of questions in the days that have followed. What has changed? Why have the authorities not been stronger against racism? And, on a personal level, what is the point? His words on Wednesday night hit with the force of a wrecking ball.
Here was an established England international saying he longed for retirement, so sick was he of the cancer in the game. It is supposed to be a dream to play professionally and it was for Rose when he started as a trainee at Leeds. But it seems to have turned into a trial, marked by unpleasantness, which cannot end soon enough. “I just want to get out [of football],” he said. “I just can’t wait to see the back of it.”
Rose, 28, is not a guy to go quietly. Indeed, there is no stronger talker than him on the London football scene, no more interesting interviewee. It is because, unlike many of his peers, he is unafraid to speak his mind on weighty issues, which include taboos such as mental health.
Rose endeared himself to many on the eve of last summer’s World Cup when he opened up on his struggle against depression. He believes it was triggered by the treatment of a knee injury that he suffered in January 2017 and would keep him out for eight months, although it was compounded by the triple trauma of his uncle killing himself, his mum Angela being racially abused and an assailant shooting at his brother inside the family home. Rose, who was on medication for a few months, said he felt better before the World Cup.
When Rose talks, he makes waves and if some of them lead to wipeouts, then so be it. Take his interview with the Sun in August 2017, when he documented his dissatisfaction at the time at Spurs. He made it plain that he considered himself – and some of his teammates – to be underpaid by the club; he said he wanted to “play up north” before the end of his career at a time when he was being linked to Manchester United and he called out the Spurs hierarchy over their transfer policy, urging them to sign players he did not “have to Google”.
Journalists love Rose for obvious reasons but he has burned a few bridges closer to home. He was fined by Spurs following the Sun interview and there are people on the staff who find that he rubs them up the wrong way. Senior figures at the club have questioned whether he enhances the chemistry of the dressing room.
Rose, however, would appear to have a strong bond with Mauricio Pochettino and it was with typical devil-may-care frankness that he discussed the manager’s job prospects last December. “It’s no coincidence that every day you read Real Madrid want him or Manchester United want him,” Rose said. “It’s exactly what he deserves.”
It is fun to imagine the reaction of various people to Rose’s comments, normally the Spurs board. He made it clear, for example, how he and the players felt about the use of Wembley as the club’s temporary home while the new stadium was finished. “It’s just not nice any more,” he said. “I don’t feel it’s an honour to play at Wembley.”
Rose said before the World Cup that he did not want his family to travel to Russia based on the country’s reputation for racially motivated attacks and he is now back on wearily familiar ground. One of the many depressing things about the Montenegro experience was the reaction of the home manager, Ljubisa Tumbakovic, who claimed not to have heard the racist chants. “I don’t see the reason why I should be commenting on that,” he added.
Rose is from a different school but in terms of what happens next, he is not holding his breath. – Guardian