Abraham says England will walk off in face of racism in Bulgaria
Chelsea striker says squad have discussed potentially defying Uefa protocols in Sofia
Chelsea’s Tammy Abraham says England will walk off if they face racist abuse in Sofia during the Euro 2020 qualifier against Bulgaria. Photo: Gerry Penny/PA Wire
Tammy Abraham says England’s players have resolved to walk off the pitch in their Euro 2020 qualifier against Bulgaria in Sofia on Monday if they are subjected to racist abuse. The Chelsea striker, who has been called up for his first competitive senior matches for the national side, also revealed that the squad had discussed defying Uefa protocols.
The governing body has a three-step procedure that it insists must be followed in the event of racist chants from the stands. The first two steps are an appeal over the PA system for the abuse to stop, after the referee has been notified, and a temporary suspension to the game. If neither works, the official should abandon the match.
In Abraham’s opinion, there ought to be only one step. If there is any racist chanting, he feels the players should leave the field straight away – and he said that the England captain, Harry Kane, had led a conversation on that issue at a team meeting on Monday.
England face Czech Republic in Prague on Friday before they travel to Sofia, where the racism fears have been sparked by the behaviour of the Bulgaria support in the qualifiers against the Czechs and Kosovo in June. As punishment, Bulgaria’s Stadion Vasil Levski has been partially closed for the next two internationals, one of which is the England game.
“We’ve had meetings about it [racist abuse from the crowd] and we’ve touched base on how to deal with the situation,” Abraham said. “Harry Kane even said that if it happens and we’re not happy with it, we all come off the pitch together.
“It’s a team thing. Don’t isolate one person. Harry did ask the question about instead of going through the three steps – if we decide that we want to stop the game, no matter what the score is – if we’re not happy as a team we’ll decide whether or not to stay on the pitch.
“Watching the gaffer [Gareth Southgate] speaking yesterday, he was quite keen on putting a stop to it. No one wants it in football. It’s not just affecting one person, it’s affecting the team. If we decide that we don’t want to play this game because of what’s going on, we’ll come off as a team.
“We’d just let the FA or whoever deal with whatever’s next – the scores or what happens with the points. At the time, it’s about making sure we’re a team, we don’t stand for it and we want the world to see that we don’t stand for the silly abuse.”
Abraham was asked directly whether it should be one strike and out rather than three. “For me, it’s just one strike because it gives people excuses,” he said.
“Like we were all saying yesterday, if it happens and let’s say there’s a warning or whatever in the stadium, then it happens again, we have to make a decision as a team and with the staff.”
It has been a tumultuous season for Abraham. Back at Chelsea after consecutive season-long loans at Bristol City, Swansea and Aston Villa, he missed the decisive penalty in the club’s second game – the European Super Cup defeat to Liverpool – and was racially abused on social media afterwards.
“I dealt with that in the best way possible,” Abraham said. “I stayed away from Twitter and all social media and I just spent time with my teammates and my family.
“I’ve spoken many times about it. It’s not acceptable. It’s not an excuse for people to hide behind computers and say whatever they want to say. Whoever doesn’t have my personality might be affected [by it] more.”
Abraham, who has since scored nine goals for Chelsea to earn his England selection, has also been in the headlines because of Nigeria’s desire to have him declare for them. The 22-year-old qualifies for the African nation through his father and because his two caps for England came in the friendlies against Germany and Brazil in November 2017 he has had to option to switch his allegiance. Abraham will be committed to England if he features against Czech Republic or Bulgaria and he said that he always wanted to play for them.
“My dream was always to play for England,” he said. “I’m born and grown in England. Nigeria is a big nation, I love both nations. My head was just screwed on with England. When you’re playing in the Premier League or playing in England, you always want to play for England. I’m here [in the squad] and I’m ready to stay. I want to do the best I can and that means playing well for club and country.”
The Sheffield United goalkeeper Dean Henderson has been called up to the squad to replace the injured Tom Heaton. – Guardian