|In your face: Raheem Sterling silences the racists in the best way possible, by scoring a goal against Montenegro. Photo AFP|
by Paul Kennedy
I’ve never been to Montenegro. I wasn’t even too sure where it was before searching online.
Looks like a nice place. Rugged mountains, medieval villages and the odd beach along the Adriatic coastline.
Casino Royale, the 2006 James Bond movie, was made there which in my book makes it a cool place.
The problem with Montenegro isn’t what’s there, it’s who’s there.
This week Montenegro played host to England and were soundly beaten in their Euro 2020 qualifying match.
But unfortunately it wasn’t the football that made the headlines.
Once again England’s black players suffered intense racial abuse from a section of the home fans.
Striker Raheem Sterling dealt with the chants in the best way possible, by scoring the final goal. After the match he said Montenegro needed to be punished, and he’s right.
And sadly it appears racism isn’t just confined to the terraces of the Podgorica City Stadium in Montenegro’s capital.
I’ve always tried to defend supporters of my own football team, but there are no excuses when it comes to so called Liverpool fan Steven Gallagher.
On Saturday during the international break, a charity match was arranged between Liverpool and Italy’s AC Milan. It was a cracker.
Supporters had the chance to see the likes of Kaka, Maldini, Cafu and Pirlo play. And if that wasn’t enough, there was also the opportunity to see Liverpool greats like Fowler, Hyypia, McManaman and Gerrard weer the red shirts once again.
Matches like this, aside from helping a good cause, also give Liverpool supporters who don’t normally get to games the chance to visit Anfield, many for the first time.
The Malik family from Rochdale in the north of England had such an opportunity.
Mum, dad, son and daughter, all dressed in Liverpool red, travelled the 70 odd kilometres to get to the game, no doubt with smiles on their faces the whole journey.
Then, by an unfortunate twist of fate, out of the 54,000 seats in the ground, the Maliks were sat behind Gallagher, who had made the trip to Liverpool from Ballymena in Northern Ireland.
What happened next is painful to write.
This pathetic excuse for a human began hurling racial abuse at Mr Malik leaving the children in floods of tears.
Gallagher, who claimed he was drunk and had no recollection of the incident, was eventually thrown out of the ground, charged and was given a fine and suspended sentence by the courts.
He has also been banned from Liverpool Football Club.
I emailed Mr Malik this week, firstly to tell him how embarrassed I was that a so-called Liverpool supporter behaved in such an appalling way, but secondly to tell him I hope his experience at the hands of one buffoon didn’t put him off going to watch Liverpool in the future.
He replied to say no chance, and he hoped to take his children back to Anfield at any given opportunity. Good man.
I’m actually sick of writing about racism in football this season. It’s been happening more and more.
UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin said after the England-Montenegro game: "It is a disaster. I cannot say anymore because it is now a matter for our disciplinary committee, but I cannot believe these people still exist."
Sorry Alek, but they do exist, everywhere, like a cancer that simply won’t go away or respond to any form of treatment, no matter how aggressive.
The punishment handed out to the supporter at Liverpool was, in my opinion, too soft.
What action UEFA takes against Montenegro is yet to be decided, but chances are that too won’t be anywhere near as strong as it should be.
A fine maybe? Play a few matches behind closed doors?
What should happen is Montenegro should be kicked out of all footballing competition for a substantial period of time.
Although after watching their team play, chances are they wouldn’t have made it to the finals anyway. — VNS