‘It’s not right . . . it’s unacceptable’ - England players subjected to racist chants

Gareth Southgate says: ‘we have the same issue in our country, we’re not free of it’

England manager Gareth Southgate after his team’s win in Montenegro. Photograph: Getty Images

England manager Gareth Southgate after his team’s win in Montenegro. Photograph: Getty Images

 

Gareth Southgate has denounced as “unacceptable” the racist abuse to which his players were subjected by sections of the home support during their resounding win in Montenegro, with the English Football Association having submitted a formal complaint to Uefa.

Danny Rose was subjected to monkey chants after a foul on Aleksandar Boljevic in stoppage time at the end of the 5-1 Euro 2020 qualifying win, with Southgate subsequently made aware of similar abuse throughout the victory.

Raheem Sterling had cupped his ears towards the most vociferous section of home support after scoring England’s fifth goal and later called for the authorities to close stadiums in which such incidents have occurred. He posted a picture of his celebration on Instagram post-match with the caption: “Best way to silence the haters (yeah I mean racists).”

Callum Hudson-Odoi, on his full debut, had picked up a cigarette lighter thrown towards Sterling in the wake of that celebration. “When I went over there, Rosey and I heard it,” he said. “They were saying monkey stuff. When you are hearing stuff like that from the fans, it’s not right … it’s unacceptable and hopefully Uefa deal with it properly.”

“It’s very sad,” said an emotional Southgate, who had been unaware of the abuse when conducting his half-time team talk. “We had an excellent performance and have an 18-year-old [HUDSON-ODOI]being interviewed after the game having to respond to what’s happened when his evening should be about the joy of his full debut. I didn’t hear during the early part, but I’m told there were things in the early part of the game as well. I certainly heard when Danny Rose was booked. It was clear to everybody. It’s unacceptable.

“I’ve spoken to our players individually. We’ve got to support them. We will report it. That reporting is already in place because so many people in other areas of the ground heard it. I believe the Uefa delegate also heard it. The players in the dressing room know that as a group of staff and organisation, we’re there for them. That’s the most important thing.”

His opposite number, Ljubisa Tumbakovic, claimed he had not heard any of the chants and, when pressed, insisted he did not see “the reason why I should be commenting on that”.

Sterling added: “It is a shame we are talking about this, to be honest with you. It is 2019 and there should be a real punishment for this, not just for the few people being banned.

“You can fine people but what’s that going to do? It needs to be a collective thing. This stadium holds 15,000 and I think the punishment should be that, as a nation, if your fans are chanting racist abuse, it should be the whole stadium can’t watch it. Then when that ban is lifted your fans will think twice about doing anything silly like that because they all love football, they all want to be there to support their nation. So it will make them think twice to do something silly like that.”

On his celebration, he added: “I just wanted to let them know that they need to tell me more than that we are black and what we resemble to affect us, really. That was the message. I was happy to score and give them something to talk about.”

“Sanctions are worthless if there is nothing alongside that to help educate people,” said Southgate. “My kids don’t think, for one minute, about where people are born, what language they speak, what colour they are. There’s an innocence about young people that is only influenced by older people. So we have to make sure the education is right for everybody, in our country the same.

“I’m not sitting here just criticising what’s happened tonight. We have the same issue in our country, we’re not free of it. You can sanction clubs, but that won’t stop one or two people who are of a mindset to do what they want to do. So we have to educate young people because we have a better chance with young people, and spread that as far and wide as we possibly can.”

The England manager was asked whether he would consider calling his players off the pitch after such incidents. “I’m not 100 per cent certain that would be what the players would want,” said Southgate, who has consistently made clear that English football has also far from eradicated racism. “From what we’ve discussed in the past, there would be a mix of views. They just want to play football. Of course we have the chance to have an impact, but I don’t have the answer, frankly.

“I’m sitting here trying to find the right balance of my disgust and recognising the differing views of the players in terms of their experiences of the past. My role is to support and protect my players, first and foremost. To speak in the position I am in the right way. Beyond that, maybe taking the players off is something I’d have to consider in the future. I have to say, it wasn’t something that came to mind at the time. I would want to have a long discussion with my players before to make sure that was a course of action they felt was a) something they wanted to do, and b) thought was something that was going to make a difference.

“I just think it’s a really sad evening. I’m reflecting on: ‘Should I have done more?’ In the end, I think I tried to protect my players as much as I possibly could. I’m not the authority on the subject. I’m a middle-aged white guy speaking about racism. I’m just finding it a really difficult subject to broach.

“I want my players to enjoy playing football and not be scarred by the experiences. If people think I should have done more, then I apologise. I have spoken about constantly against the subject. I have supported all the education programmes in our own country. I manage every player as well as I possibly can, regardless of which club they’re from, what their roots are. It’s very difficult to find the appropriate words and am more concerned about my players at the moment.”

Guardian services

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