Time for UEFA to get tough on racism

Posted by John Brewin

England will be waking up to what are rather customary headline subjects. This time, however, the racism and rain took place on foreign soils and English players were the victims. The wash-out in Poland - where a roof never stopped a deluge because it was never put over the pitch in the first place - threw sharper focus back on the terrifying yet predictable events in Serbia that befell the nation's younger guns.

Stuart Pearce may have an undistinguished career in management and coaching, but he can now talk of qualifying his Under-21 team for four straight European Championship finals. The problem is that, while he tried to ask for credit for that achievement, few wanted to celebrate with him. Instead, he was forced to field questions about just what had occurred in the aftermath of his team's 1-0 win in Serbia.

Connor Wickham's late winner was always a side issue. The dark side of international football saw to that. As soon as the whistle sounded, a section of fans in the Krusevac stadium broke into a chorus of racist abuse, and left-back Danny Rose lost his cool.

Ludicrously, he was booked for his understandable anger, and thus received a red card that must surely be rescinded. England's players had already been subjected to vile abuse throughout, and an official complaint was lodged at half-time. As the game - a dire match in which Pearce typically laid out his team for the result and not the performance - ebbed towards its conclusion with the Serbs heading out, the rancour fired up. By then, missiles were flying on to the pitch. When Wickham placed the ball into an open net, with Serbia's keeper marooned upfield following a desperate attempt to equalise, the England players celebrated before they headed for the tunnel amid a volley of abuse and objects launched from fans. Their progress was halted by a madding crowd of supposed representatives of Serbia.

Police had made their way to the side of the pitch to stop an invasion. They were still required on the pitch where Rose, after his angry reaction, was being targeted. As Rose made his way off, signalling that he had been the victim of monkey chants, other pitched battles were breaking out. Serbian players and staff were doing little to calm things, and indeed were fanning the flames, with England assistant Steve Wigley, one of the game's mildest men, having to be pulled away from the melee, his face contorted in rage as he was bundled down the tunnel.

"What happened tonight wasn't nice and is not called for in football," Jordan Henderson, his country's captain on the night, told the FA's website afterwards. "There was a lot of racist abuse out there from the stands and a lot going on after the game, which is hard to take for the players.

"The players coped with the abuse really well. It's not nice. They kept their heads and were professional. I thought our players were brilliant and conducted themselves very well.

"The players completely condemn what happened. There was also stones, coins and seats getting thrown at us. I didn't understand why Danny Rose was sent off at the end - I didn't see he did anything wrong, other than get abused."

Henderson, seeking a grasp of the implications, added: "UEFA must deal with this in the right way." Serbia have previous: they were fined and had to forfeit their Euro 2012 qualifier against Italy when fans behaved in a similar fashion. Pearce's first European Under-21 finals saw his team targeted for racist abuse in Nijmegen by Serbia's players and fans, for which the Serbian FA was fined £16,500 and England £2,000 for their retaliation.

Back in England, former international Paul Ince, whose son Thomas was one of those players racially abused, stated his anger. "If it was me they [Serbia] would be kicked out for the next five tournaments," Ince senior said. It was a hard line where too often the governing body has been far too soft.

Racism is becoming too habitual for UEFA not to take a proper stance, and Serbia must be the first team to face tougher action, yet a glance at previous sanctions suggests that the governing body is yet to take it seriously enough: £45,000 Spain 2004 (racism); £16,500 Serbia 2007 (racism); £10,000 Croatia 2008 (racism); £80,000 Bendtner (pants). The last of these, of course, was Denmark striker Nicklas' fine for wearing sponsored underpants. That says rather too much.

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