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 in Podgorica on Monday night.
Sterling reacted by cupping his ears in front of the home fans when he scored England’s fifth goal, with a missile thrown in his direction in retaliation.
The Manchester City forward has called for a stadium ban for Montenegro as a suitable punishment, while the Football Association released a statement yesterday that condemned “abhorrent racist chanting” during the game at the Gradski Stadion.
UEFA have opened disciplinary proceedings against the hosts, which includes a charge of racist behaviour and a partial stadium ban is a possible punishment.
Sterling has highlighted the issue in the past, as has his team-mate, Doncaster-born Danny Rose, after he was racially abused during an Under-21 fixture in Serbia in 2012.
Sterling said after this latest example of racially-motivated abuse that it is something of which he is always wary.
“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, he added: “Not an outpouring of frustration, it was just to let them know then ‘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, which is sad to hear,” 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.”
England manager Gareth Southgate underlined the need for education when tackling the kind of racism endured by his players in Montenegro.
Ross Barkley’s brace was complemented by goals from Michael Keane, Kane and Sterling.
But there was barely any talk about the football after Monday night’s Euro 2020 qualifier.
An emotional Southgate struggled to gather his thoughts after the game and did not want to be drawn into sanctions, instead pointing to education when he was told that Montenegro boss Ljubisa Tumbakovic claimed not to have heard anything.
“I don’t think I need to comment on what was said,” Southgate said. “It was clear to everybody that there were comments made.
“Reflecting on sanctions, sanctions are only of any use if they lead to education.
“Sanctions are worthless if there is nothing alongside that to help educate people.
“My kids don’t think for one minute about where people are born, what language they speak, what colour they are.
“There’s an innocence about young people that is only influenced by older people. So we have to make sure that the education is right for everybody.
“In our country, (it’s) the same. I’ve said this before, I’m not sitting here just criticising what’s happened (in Montenegro) because in our country we have the same issue. We’re not free of it.
“You can sanction clubs (or countries), but frankly that’s not going to stop one or two people who are of a mindset from doing what they want to do.
“So, we have to make sure that we educate young people because we have a better chance with young people and then we’ve got to lead that as far and as wide as we possibly can.”