Sheffield Wednesday winger Kadeem Harris insists he would never walk off a pitch in protest over racist abuse.
Just like England’s players stood their ground in Sofia this week – thrashing Bulgaria 6-0 against a back-drop of racist chants from home supporters – Harris believes staying on the pitch and punishing the opposition is the perfect way to answer the thugs.
We have seen a lot of ‘Kick it Out’ t-shirts over the years, but I don’t think it’s made much of a difference.Kadeem Harris
England’s Euro 2020 qualifier win was stopped twice in the first half following the racist abuse.
Raheem Sterling and Marcus Rashford both netted on Monday night, and Harris believes that is a more powerful message than abandoning the game.
“I think it’s disgusting, but it didn’t really surprise me,” said Harris. “Credit to the England boys for playing the whole game, getting the result, and not letting it affect their performance.
“The best way to combat it is what they have done, a win. Raheem scored, Rashford scored, he was getting some of the abuse.
“It’s up to the players if they want to carry on or walk off the pitch. Things like that can affect someone’s game, and if they don’t feel like they can perform at 100 per cent, then it’s their right to walk off the pitch.
“I have experienced it once on the pitch, I think I was in the Under-18s at the time playing a reserve game. There was one fan giving it, but at the time it just gave me more incentive to do well in that match.
“If I got it (abuse) I wouldn’t be one of those who let it affect them in a bad way. It would give me that extra incentive like it probably did with Rashford and Sterling the other day, to get a good result and, hopefully, get on the scoresheet.”
While the scenes in Sofia were appalling, racism in England still bubbles under the surface, often emerging through social media platforms.
Harris believes harsher punishments are needed for people found guilty of online abuse too.
“We need hefty fines and maybe prison time,” said Harris, a free transfer in the summer from tonight’s hosts Cardiff City, who Wednesday need to beat to go top of the Championship.
So how would the Owls deal with racism inside the stadium from opposition supporters?
“I think all the boys would get behind each other, just like England did the other day,” said the 26-year-old. “Whoever was getting abuse would probably report it. If it was me, I wouldn’t walk off the pitch. But if it was someone else that decided to walk off the pitch, all the players would be behind that player and support them. We would do it as a team.
“We have seen a lot of ‘Kick it Out’ t-shirts over the years, but I don’t think it’s made much of a difference.
“Sanctions should be a lot harsher than they have been in previous years. If they are, that may stop racism in the future.”
The Owls are three points off leaders West Bromwich ahead of tonight’s televised game, and have four away wins – at Reading, Middlesbrough, Huddersfield Towns and Rotherham United – from seven.
They face a Neil Warnock team who have conceded just three goals in five home games.
Harris struggled to nail down regular first-team football at Cardiff – just 29 league starts in seven years – and is relishing the chance to face the Bluebirds.
“This fixture is definitely one I am looking forward to, I would be lying if I said I wasn’t,” he said. “I am excited and, hopefully, we can go there and get the result that we want.
“It was very mixed. I was there a long time, and had a lot of ups and downs, a rollercoaster ride for me.
“I learned a lot there, not just as a player on the pitch but how to be a good professional. I still think I can be better, there’s always room for improvment, but I learned a lot at Cardiff.
“I didn’t get as many opportunities as I would have liked, but these things happen in football and I have moved on. I am just looking forward to the game against them.”
Harris has been encouraged to run at full-backs, by new Owls manager Garry Monk, and says: “One-on-ones, that’s me in a nutshell. I love to take players on. I have done that ever since I came here and the manager has encouraged me to do it.
“The players don’t mind if I have lost the ball. They know if I can beat the player, one or two times, I can get the cross in and obviously create a goal, or get a shot in. The players encourage that.
“As a rule, we don’t look at the opposition, we look at what we can do, and our strengths. We just focus on what we can do.”
On tonight’s game, he added: “It’s an incentive (to go top), but the league position at this time of the season is not important.”
Last six games: Cardiff City DDWDWL Sheffield Wednesday WDLWDW.
Referee: K Stroud (Hampshire).
Last time: Cardiff City 1 Sheffield Wednesday 1, September 16 2017, Championship.