England boss Gareth Southgate has revealed his players have no desire to leave the playing field in the event of future racist abuse from the stands, and says it is a reaction that wouldn’t directly tackle the problem.
Three Lions stars including Danny Rose and Callum Hudson-Odoi became the targets of Montenegro fans during a recent European Championship qualifier.
After the sickening events in Podgorica – a game England won 5-1 – Southgate was left to reflect on whether or not he should have ordered his players to leave the pitch.
However, after naming his 27-man squad ahead of the Nations League Finals in June, the former Middlesbrough manager has suggested that walking away from such abuse from the terraces might not provide all the answers.
“In terms of walking off the pitch, that isn’t something they (the players) are all on board with,” he told Sky Sports.
“In fact, none of the current team have expressed that as a preference. The bit that isn’t clear if we did that – apart from the question of would we be penalised? – it’s not clear to me what would happen then. It would be a statement, but what would that lead to?
“They’re clear that they don’t want the story at the end to be about them as individuals, they want football to be the story. But they’ve also had an opportunity since then to speak and have an impact.
“In Montenegro in particular, from our perspective we only picked it up in the last five minutes of the game, so there’s a difference between that and if things happened earlier in the game.
“We’ve discussed ways that we can make the players more comfortable or that we can manage if they heard things earlier in the game.
“How would we report those more easily? We’ve encouraged them to speak up when it happens.”
Having taken time to digest events in Montenegro in March, Southgate also addressed how such actions might be viewed by the game’s authorities.
When questioned about whether he’d be prepared to make a statement with such a high-profile international team, he said: “It is hypothetical at the moment, because we are not in that situation. But the subject is there.
“Everybody is aware. I don’t think we surely need any more symbolic statements that this is unacceptable.
“It is totally unacceptable, but I am still not clear. What change will that enforce? Somehow we have to enforce that change and education on society and I think we must continue to strive to do that.
“But I know there is a wide variation of opinions of people that this is the right thing and people who are less sure. My players’ feeling is the most important thing for me.
“There are lots of statements that have been made and haven’t led to change and reform.
“For me, the broader discussion of education around racism is key. I think a lot of our players and former players have spoken brilliantly about that in recent months.”