Gary Neville has reiterated the call for direct action against racism by players walking off the pitch – and admitted he was “ashamed” not to have done so in support of former team-mate Ashley Cole.
Chelsea defender Antonio Rudiger reported being targeted by monkey chants during the second half of the 2-0 win at Tottenham – where there were three stadium announcements saying that “racist behaviour among spectators is interfering with the game”.
Following the match, in which Son Heung-min had been sent off for a challenge on Rudiger, former England defender Cole, a pundit on Sky Sports, was asked for his views on the incident and spoke of the abuse directed at him during his playing career.
"We have to empower the players to walk off the pitch and stop the entertainment while it's happening."
The Super Sunday panel discuss the incident of alleged racism in the second half of Tottenham vs Chelsea. pic.twitter.com/mgEw0NlT7F
— Sky Sports Premier League (@SkySportsPL) December 22, 2019
Neville played in the England team with Cole – who, along with Shaun Wright-Phillips, was subjected to racist abuse during a 2004 friendly against Spain in Madrid.
“Ashley was abused at the Bernabeu in a game I played in and probably did not give it a moment’s thought really,” Neville said.
“We are thinking it as football players, then ultimate you hear about it when there is a media storm, with calls for UEFA, for FIFA, for the Spanish authorities to deal with it… similarly recently with Bulgaria (against England).
“But we have a racism problem in the Premier League in England. And the Premier League have to step up, they hide behind the FA on this issue.”
Neville also accused the major political parties of “fuelling racism and accepting racism within their parties” during the recent general election campaign.
He said: “If it is accepted within the highest office in the country, we are not talking about it at a micro level, we are talking about an absolutely enormous level.
“Maybe we have to empower the players to walk off the pitch and stop the entertainment while it is happening. That is the only way I can see it happening.
“I did not walk off the pitch when Ashley was abused 15 years ago, and you might argue that now it’s okay for me to sit here in my ivory tower of a commentary box and suggest that players should walk off the pitch.
“Ultimately I would be ashamed of myself for not doing (it) 15 years ago as I would be absolutely proud of players for doing it now to empower them to think, do something about it and take it into your own hands.”
Cole, meanwhile, had reflected on how he had tried to “block out” the incidents and just focus on his football.
“Players keep going to the referee, but we see the same things happening,” he said on Sky Sports.
“These people need educating. In society it is easy to say what you want on social media, you don’t see their faces.
“People around them need to be grassing them up, getting them thrown out and banned.”
Cole, who also played at the Los Angeles Galaxy before a stint at Derby under Lampard, feels the current anti-discrimination campaigns do not go far enough.
“You have a T-shirt in your place (in the dressing room). They are like: ‘put that on for the warm-up, then you can take it off,” the 39-year-old said. “People don’t really care.”
He added: “Why do they wait until something happens in the game to make the announcements? I don’t think it is enough – and is it going to stop?
— ShowRacismtheRedCard (@SRTRC_England) December 22, 2019
“It is kind of my fault as well that when I was abused I did not come out, but I just felt I didn’t have enough support.
“Raheem (Sterling) has changed that, he has the people on his side, whereas I did not feel I had that.”
Chief executive of Show Racism the Red Card Ged Grebby hit out at the “disgraceful” incident at Tottenham and called for a swift response.
“Racism is a massive problem in society and it’s coming back into football, but in terms of what happened, I think the protocol worked well and now we need to identify who these people were,” Grebby said on Sky Sports News.
“We have cameras in the ground. We need to identify was it one person, was it a group of people? We need more information about what happened.
“I have no doubt given the players reaction and how animated he was and mocking the gesture himself, that it happened.”
— Antonio Rüdiger (@ToniRuediger) December 22, 2019
Anti-discrimination campaigners Kick It Out said in a statement on Sunday evening: “We are aware of the alleged racist incidents at today’s game between Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea.
“We applaud the action of referee Anthony Taylor in following step one of the protocol and the ensuing steps taken by Tottenham Hotspur in repeating the stadium announcements.
“We have offered our support to both of the clubs and also to Chelsea’s Antonio Rudiger.”