Gareth Southgate Reveals ‘Disgusting’ Racial Abuse of Young Players

Sunday, 21 April, 2019 - 05:30
London - Dominic Fifield

Gareth Southgate claims England must address its own problems with racism before it can criticise Russia over the matter after revealing members of the national set-up’s junior sides had endured “disgusting” racial abuse on social media.

The national manager was asked about concerns over the World Cup this summer before Friday’s friendly against the Netherlands and was quick to point out the problem remains unresolved in the English game. He cited a presentation by Troy Townsend, an education officer at Kick it Out, who addressed national coaches this month and showed them comments posted under an image of the England under-16s side.

The photograph had been published by Steven Gerrard – whose nephew Bobby Duncan had been playing in the tie – on his Instagram feed after the team’s victory against Brazil in the 2016 Florida Cup, with comments including “Is this England or Senegal?”, “Looks more like Nigeria” and “Seven black players, ha ha ha”.

Southgate said: “The comments about that team were disgusting. They’re part of our England family. We have a club environment at St George’s Park. It is our training ground. Our teams mix and the youngsters in the set-up look up to the senior team.

“I know most of those young players really closely and I’ve seen them come through. When I look at people like Trent [Alexander-Arnold], who I saw in America with the under-17s a few years ago, it’s brilliant to see them come through. So to see them abused in that way is absolutely disgusting. So when we speak about other countries, I find it difficult to deflect that from what we’ve seen there.

“So I don’t think we should just talk about racism in Russia. We’ve got to get our own house in order. There are things going on in our own country that aren’t correct. We keep pointing the finger at Russia, where we are going to be guests in the next couple of months, but we haven’t resolved the issue in our own country. Until we do, I think we should stop firing off those things elsewhere.”

There have been calls for Southgate to add a BAME coach to his staff ahead of the finals, though he has no plans to alter his backroom team. “I appointed my coaching staff 18 months ago, so there is no additional coaching position,” he said. “Obviously there’s been reference to how we would deal with racism but we have a department set up working across all our teams to deal with that sort of player welfare side things. We’re already well down the line in terms of what we’ll do and talk about with the players before we go to Russia. That support is in place.”

Southgate was dismissive of predictions by Boris Johnson that Vladimir Putin will glory in the World Cup in the way Adolf Hitler did over the 1936 Olympic Games. “It’s of little interest to me what the foreign secretary thinks about it,” he said. “I spoke to the players a couple of days ago and there’s no suggestion we won’t go to the tournament.”

Jordan Pickford will have the initial opportunity to stake a claim to be England’s first-choice goalkeeper in the summer by starting against the Netherlands, albeit Jack Butland may have his own chance against Italy on Tuesday. Jordan Henderson will captain a side without Arsenal’s Jack Wilshere, whose hopes of earning a first cap since the ignominious elimination to Iceland at Euro 2016 were dashed after he returned to Arsenal with tendinopothy in a knee.

There remains the possibility the 26-year-old, who had been expected to start in the Amsterdam ArenA, could link up with the squad on their return and force his way back in for the game against the Azzurri. Yet Southgate, who insisted his team could “surprise people” in Russia, suggested it may be time for Wilshere to target greater involvement after the finals. “It’s certainly not an ideal situation for Jack but there’s a bigger picture for him,” he said. “He’s still a young player who’s come back from serious injuries, and his progress over the last year has been notable.

“Whatever happens over the next few months, there’s a longer future for Jack Wilshere that’s just as important as what happens over the next few months. There’s a level required, physically, at the top level of domestic and international football, not only in terms of getting on the pitch but performing at a very high level. To express your skills you have you have to be at peak physical condition or you can’t express that talent. For any player in the squad, that’s an important factor.”

The Guardian Sport

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