“Shame” of racial abuse was on Sterling’s mind
Raheem Sterling admits the possibility of being racially abused is something he considers every time he plays in certain parts of the world.
The 24-year-old and his England team-mates were subjected to racist chants during the Three Lions’ 5-1 win over Montenegro in Podgorica on Monday.
Sterling reacted by pulling his ears in front of the home fans when he scored England’s fifth goal, with a missile thrown in his direction in retaliation.
— Raheem Sterling (@sterling7) March 25, 2019
Speaking after the game, the Manchester City forward called for a stadium ban for Montenegro as a suitable punishment, while the Football Association released a statement on Tuesday which condemned “abhorrent racist chanting” during the game at the Gradski Stadion.
UEFA has opened disciplinary proceedings against the hosts, which includes a charge of racist behaviour – with a partial stadium ban a possible punishment.
Sterling has highlighted the issue in the past, as has England team-mate Danny Rose after he was racially abused during an Under-21 fixture in Serbia in 2012.
After the latest incident of racially-motivated abuse, Sterling said it is something he is always wary of.
“We know it’s going to be hostile, horrible at times,” he replied when asked if he almost expects the issue when playing in eastern Europe.
“Yes, its in the back of your mind. A few years ago it happened to Danny in Serbia.
“We knew it would be a similar atmosphere, we weren’t thinking about racism, we were thinking more hostile, swearing, up in your face. But it’s a real shame.
“It’s a real shame to be coming somewhere to be reminded of what skin colour you are, or what you resemble.
“I know what colour I am. It’s just a shame that some people think it’s cool to make fun of you for it.”
Asked if his celebration was an outpouring of frustration, Sterling added: “Not an outpouring of frustration, it was just to let them know you’re going to have to do better than that to stop us.”
Having spoken out about what he considered to be racism within the media industry, Sterling has become something of a figurehead in highlighting and tackling the issue.
“I didn’t mean to be a leader,” he added.
“I don’t think I’m a leader. It’s just something I thought to myself that I’d been seeing for a while and I thought it was sad and I just wanted to bring awareness.
“I didn’t say anyone was racist, I was just speaking about something that was serious at the time.”
Captain Harry Kane had sympathy with the players singled out for abuse and said the rest of the dressing room would rally round in support.
“It was spoken about in the changing room after,” he said.
“We are close friends and I don’t want any of my friends going through that, in this day and age especially it shouldn’t be happening but it is out of our hands and we have to see what happens from here.
“I didn’t hear it myself but I’ve heard from certain players that it was there, which is unacceptable in my eyes and the team’s eyes.
“Obviously we will stick together and stick with the players and do what we can but it is down to UEFA and whoever is organising it to take charge and punish fans caught doing this stuff. We will stick behind the lads and do everything possible.”