Gareth Southgate vows ‘mature’ England will keep fighting battle against racism

Gareth Southgate vowed to keep fighting racism as the England manager praised the “incredibly mature” way his players handled yet another night of shameful abuse.

After players were subjected to racism in European Championship qualifiers against Montenegro and Bulgaria in 2019, the Three Lions’ first away match in front of fans since the Covid-19 pandemic began was marred by more.

FIFA has opened disciplinary proceedings against Hungary after monkey chants were aimed at goalscorer Raheem Sterling and unused substitute Jude Bellingham in Thursday’s World Cup qualifier in Budapest.

Both have posted on social media since the 4-0 win, with the latter, who is just 18, saying racism is “part of the game and always will be until proper punishments are put in place by those with the power”.

England have now been subjected to racist abuse on three of their last five away qualifiers in front of fans, underlining why the squad continue to take the knee and unify against racism.

“Unfortunately, I don’t know how many camps we’ve had in the last four years but I seem to have been talking about this subject almost every time we’ve been together,” England boss Southgate said.

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“I can only reiterate that our players are incredibly mature in the way they deal with it.

“I think they feel supported by their team-mates, which is very important to them.

“I think their team-mates recognise how challenging it must be for our black players and how disappointing it is in the modern world that we continue to have to answer these questions because of the incidents that happen.

“But we can only keep taking the stance that we have done and hope that we continue to send the right messages, not only to people in football, but across society and that everybody keeps progressing.

“We know it’s going to take time and we know that feels very slow for everybody but you know we have to keep fighting that battle.”

Southgate has been quick to point out that there are issues to tackle on the racism front closer to home, with Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka racially abused online after their penalty misses in the Euro 2020 final.

England fans have made a banner showing their support for the trio ahead of Sunday’s World Cup qualifier against Andorra as the national team returns to Wembley for the first time since that loss to Italy.

More than 65,000 fans are expected at a match where Conor Coady will be proud to take the knee in solidarity with his team-mates once more.

England players were targeted in Budapest
England players were targeted in Budapest (Attila Trenka/PA)

“We speak about it all the time,” the England defender said.

“It’s something we don’t want to speak about but it’s happening and I think with the way the boys deal with these situations, the way this team deals with these situations, because we’re such a close-knit group, it’s something where once it happens to one person, it happens to us all.

“We’ll carry on doing what we’re doing, we’ll carry on trying to take a stance and, as the manager has just said there, in terms of not just in football but in society. We want to try to help, and help change.

“I think it’s important we all stick together, which is something we’ll always do and the two boys, they are absolutely fantastic people but we’re a team that will always get around them as much as we possibly can.”