When English Under-21 footballer Danny Rose walked off the pitch fending off aggression from both his opponents on the pitch and a raucous crowd who had been directing monkey chants in his direction for over two hours, he probably wondered how it had come to that. Having grown in an industrial town in the north of England you would think he would have been prepared for the roughness of the game and the abuse that sometimes can be dispensed on visiting footballers from the stands all across Europe. This, however, was different.
From the moment Rose came out to stretch his limbs before the match started, he was repeatedly taunted with monkey chants. So much so that in his own words, by the 60th minute, his head was not in the game any longer.
That the Serbian Football Federation failed to take any action and let their fans carry on is not something unheard of, and I will come to this point in a second. What surprised me the most was that neither the Turkish referee in charge, nor England Manager Stuart Pearce or Team Captain Jordan Henderson took action until the end of the game, letting this imbecile behaviour steal the limelight from the actual match.
Of course, had they walked, maybe Serbia and not England would be now through to the Under-21 European Championship. Consequences aside however, they failed to take action, and by not doing so, they also failed to prioritise what was obviously more important; in this case, the safety of one of their own and the need to make a stand against racism with actions, not empty words.
As for the Serbian players and staff, little else can be said. They all failed to put aside their rivalry with their sporting opponents, and instead merrily joined their stupid fans’ racist innuendos. It must be said here that Serbian coaches do not have the cleanest of reputations when it comes to racism in football. To mention but one case, back in 2006, Hadjuk Kula, coach of Nebojsa Vucicevic, was happy to shout racial slurs at Red Star Belgrade Senegalese player Ibrahima Gueye, just because he was, you know, black and African.
Fans from hell
Now, back to the Serbian fans. What happened this week in Krusevac is, of course, nothing new. Serbian fans have been at it for years under the approving eyes – yes Mr Platini, the approving eyes – of UEFA. The list of offences by these so-called fans is so long that I would need two, maybe three columns to cite them all.
“Serbian Prime Minister and former Solobodan Milosevic’s protégé Ivica Dacic, chose to go public and state that the claims of racial abuse against Danny Rose and other England black players could not be verified as yet.”
Suffice to say that back in 2006 Zimbabwean footballer Mike Temwanjera was at the end of some of their antics, leading to arrests and prosecutions. Not that they would be deterred, and two years later a Ghanian player, Salomon Opoku, was physically attacked by fans, for no other reason than the colour of his skin.
Seeing that they could get away with all sorts of racist banter and violence at a domestic level, Serbian fans have been testing the European stage with their medieval-like ideas and actions for a few years now.
As a matter of fact, Danny Rose is not the first England Under-21 player to be at the end of the Serbian fans’ racial mockery. That dubious honour corresponds to Nedum Onuoha, who had to take it on the chin back in 2007.
In a more recent episode, some of them went on a rampage through the streets of the Marassi neighbourhood of Genoa in Italy leaving 16 people hurt and causing extensive damage to the centre of the city as well.
Lack of action
Even after all these events, somehow the Serbian Football Association fails to see the problem and instead tries to put the blame of Danny Rose, going as far as calling him “vulgar” and denying that there were racist chants – and you would guess missiles thrown from – the stands.
Even worse, Serbian Prime Minister and former Solobodan Milosevic’s protégé Ivica Dacic, chose to go public and state that the claims of racial abuse against Danny Rose and other England black players could not be verified as yet.
No wonder racism is blossoming among Serbian football fans. Both the Serbian football authorities and the nation’s Prime Minister cannot be bothered to admit and condemn in the strongest terms what happened in Krusevac a few days ago. As a matter of fact, they seem to be in denial, going as far as to stating that Serbia has nothing to apologise for.
They have ignored, time and again, a disease that is putting the reputation of their country and the sport in general, in jeopardy. To them it seems easier to sweep under the carpet the problem in the hope that it will go away. Unfortunately, that’s not the case.
Of course, institutionalised racism in Serbian football is a result of lack of action by all those concerned. From those young Serbian players who took the field against Rose, Henderson and company, to their coaches, football authorities, and going as far as to the Serbian Prime Minister, the entire mindset and attitude needs a 360 degrees turnaround.
If we are to stamp racism out of football, words are not enough. Perhaps we should start by stamping Serbia out of all competitions until they realise that cutting slack to the racist fans and looking the other way will have consequences, not only for the said fans, but also for the entire nation. Maybe then, they will understand once and for all, that they do have a problem.
Manuel Barcia is Deputy Director at the Institute for Colonial and Postcolonial Studies at the University of Leeds.