UEFA is set to launch an investigation after Montenegrin fans racially abused England’s players on a night that left manager Gareth Southgate disgusted.
Monday was always likely to be a difficult evening for the Three Lions, whose players were made aware of what could lie in store in Podgorica by the management team in the build-up.
Southgate said there had been “no evidence of any racism” on the eve of the game, but sadly that changed in Monday’s Euro 2020 qualifier at the Gradski Stadion.
Danny Rose was subjected to monkey chants at the end of the impressive 5-1 comeback win in Montenegro, where earlier abuse led Raheem Sterling to celebrate the final goal of the night by pulling out his ears in front of the home fans.
Callum Hudson-Odoi, the 18-year-old whose impressive first start was overshadowed, picked up an item thrown from the stands after that goal and called for action to be taken against Montenegro, with Southgate confirming the hosts would be reported to UEFA.
“Firstly, very sad,” the Three Lions boss said. “We had an excellent performance and we’ve got an 18-year-old being interviewed after the game and he’s having to respond to what’s happened when his evening should be about the joy of his full debut.
“I didn’t hear (anything) during the early part of the game, but I’m told there were things in the early part of the game as well.
“But I certainly heard when Danny Rose was booked and it’s unacceptable. I’ve spoken to our players individually. We’ve got to support them. We will report it.
“But I think that reporting is already in place because so many people in other areas of the ground have heard it. I believe the UEFA delegate also heard it.
“So, our part will be to make sure that process is followed, but more importantly for me is that the players in the dressing room know that as a group of staff and as an organisation we’re there for them. That’s the most important thing.”
UEFA regulations state that if supporters engage in racist behaviour then “the member association or club responsible is punished with a minimum of a partial stadium closure”.
Article 14 also states that additional disciplinary measures can be imposed depending on the situation, while “disciplinary measures may be combined with specific directives aimed at tackling such conduct”.
Montenegro head coach Ljubisa Tumbakovic remarkably claimed not to “hear or notice any” racist abuse, but Southgate said it was “clear to everybody that there were comments made”.
The England manager did not want to be drawn on sanctions, pointing only to the importance of education.
Asked if he should shame the hosts and take the players off, the England boss said: “I’m not 100 per cent certain that that would be what the players would want.
“There would be a mix of views, in terms of when we’ve discussed the topic in the past, how the players would like it to be dealt with. And 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 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.
“I think my role is to support and protect my players as much as possible, first and foremost, is to speak in the position I am in the right way.
“Beyond that, maybe that’s something I’d have to consider in the future. I have to say, it wasn’t something that came to mind at the time.”