Wednesday, October 17, 2012


Racism and violence marred a record-breaking night for England’s Under 21s as coach Stuart Pearce branded Serbia's actions 'a disgrace'.

A number of England’s black  players, including Danny Rose, were subjected to racist chants as the visitors won 1-0 with a late  Connor Wickham goal to secure a 2-0 aggregate win and a trip to Israel next summer.

It will be their fourth straight European Championship finals appearance, the first time any nation has achieved that.

Rose, sent off after the final  whistle for a second bookable offence, made gestures to Serbia fans after being racially abused and pelted with stones. He was  inconsolable afterwards. 

There were horrendous scenes at the end, as a mass brawl erupted between players and coaches. 

England goalkeeping coach Martin Thomas was butted and assistant head coach Steve Wigley was kicked in the stomach. England goalkeeper Jack Butland also had a seat thrown at him.

The FA will demand UEFA take action and head coach Pearce was appalled. He said: ‘It was quite  disgraceful. The scenes at the end were very sad.

'One or two of the technical staff from the opposition, and I don't include their manager in that, didn't cover themselves in glory on the pitch at the end.

An FA statement said: ‘The FA condemns both the scenes of  racism and the confrontation at the final whistle during which time our players and staff were under extreme provocation. The FA has reported a number of incidents of racism to UEFA. These were seemingly aimed at a number of England’s black players by the crowd.’

If UEFA had anything about them, they would ban Serbia from the next Under 21 European  Championship and impose stringent sanctions available on their senior team, such as making them play every home game for the next four years behind closed doors.

This is not a knee-jerk reaction. Serbia are repeat offenders. In 2007, when England and Serbia met at this level at the finals in Holland, Nedum Onuoha was subjected to racial abuse. Serbia players also brawled with England at the final whistle, charging at England’s bench when Matt Derbyshire had made it 2-0. What was the punishment? A £16,000 fine.
That sends out a message that these thugs can continue regardless. And they do.

Walking outside the stadium before kick-off, this did not have the feel of a normal Under 21 game. Groups of men prowled, casting suspicious, threatening glances at those who were clearly not locals.

Inside, fireworks were frequently set off after the game began and at one point, the stadium announcer made a plea to the Serbian crowd ‘not to throw any more pyrotechnics’.

Still they continued. Bangs here, little explosions there, they threw a seat, lighters and coins at Butland and similar at Rose.

Worse would follow in the form of racist chants. Marvin Sordell appeared to be subjected to them when he went down for treatment towards the end of the first half and spoke with referee Huseyin Gocek as he left the field at the break.

The FA reported unspecified  incidents of racism to UEFA at that point. None, it should be noted, came from any of the Serbia players, just some of the morons in the seats near to the touchline.

Sadly it got worse. ‘There was a lot of racist abuse from the stands and a lot going on after the game, which is hard to take,’ said England captain Jordan Henderson. ‘It’s not nice but we kept our heads. I don’t understand why Danny was sent off — I didn’t see he did anything wrong, other than get abused.’

Wickham secured England’s passage, tapping in to give England a 2-0 lead on aggregate. Serbia’s goalkeeper Branimir Aleksic was up the other end of the field as his side chased the goal that would have levelled the tie and Tom Ince broke to set up Wickham

Unable to take any more abuse, Rose celebrated in front of Serbia’s fans at the final whistle. At that point, all hell broke loose. Thomas and Wigley were attacked and punches were thrown in England’s direction.

After defending stoically on the field, it would have been easy for England to start swinging back when red shirts came charging. That they stood firm was to their credit.

Amazingly Serbia Under 21 coach Aleksander Jankovic refused to accept his squad’s role in the brawl. He said: ‘For a fight it takes two sides. It is a big question to say it was provoked from our bench. We will analyse it tomorrow. A riot on the pitch? It looked a good game to me.’

Yet Pearce had praise for his opposite number. ‘I must commend (former Aston Villa striker and now Serbia technical director) Savo Milosevic, who came to our dressing room and apologised,’ said Pearce. ‘Their manager also conducted himself in a right and proper manner.’

Too few did not. To see Rose march from the pitch and make gestures to those who taunted him, out of sheer heartbreak and rage, was one of the saddest incidents this observer has ever witnessed.

Yet, until UEFA act, these events will continue. Rather than talk about re-jigging tournaments and wondering how much more money they can make, let’s see them take a stand.


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