Tammy Abraham, the Chelsea striker, says the England team will walk off the pitch in Sofia on Monday if one of them is racially abused from the stands and the players feel that the Uefa protocol designed to combat it proves ineffective.
Abraham, 22, also suggested that if the situation is particularly bad, the team will be led off by captain Harry Kane regardless, although the Football Association position is that the players will follow the three-step Uefa process in their Euro 2020 qualifiers. They play the Czech Republic in Prague on Friday and then at the Vasil Levski national stadium in Bulgaria, which will have a reduced capacity by orders of Uefa because of racial abuse during the games against the Czechs and Kosovo in June.
The FA said that the players’ agreement was to follow the Uefa protocol: that racial abuse is reported first to the referee, who calls for a stadium announcement, and if that fails to solve the problem, the players are taken off the pitch. The FA says that the players will then be consulted on the final step: a discussion with Uefa and the officials as to whether they will go back onto the pitch.
Abraham said the squad had held “several meetings”, with Kane supporting the approach that the team reach their own decision. “Harry Kane even said that if it happens and we’re not happy with it, we speak to the player [concerned] and if he’s not happy, we all come off the pitch together,” Abraham said. “It’s a team thing. Don’t isolate one person, we’re a whole team. If it happens to one of us, it happens to all of us.”
He added: “Harry Kane did ask the question about instead of going through the three steps, if we decide that we want to stop the game – no matter what the score is – if we’re not happy with it, as a team we’ll decide whether or not to stay on the pitch.”
Abraham also said the players would allow Uefa to try to bring the situation under control. Asked whether it should be one strike or three for offenders, he said: “For me, personally, I think it’s just one strike because it gives people excuses. One time, twice, three times – it gives silly people excuses. Like we were all saying [on Monday], if it happens and let’s say there’s a warning or whatever in the stadium, then it happens again, we have to make a decision as a team and with the staff.”
Such a move would be unprecedented from an England team, although Gareth Southgate has said in the past that the players and staff would be prepared to take matters into their own hands if the situation required it. The team were abused by home fans in March in a Euro 2020 qualifier in Montenegro, for which the hosts were punished by a €20,000 (£18,000) fine and their next game being staged behind closed doors.
Asked about the implications of taking their own action and the possible ramifications, Abraham said that would not be the priority for the players.
“I think if that happens and we do decide to leave the field, obviously it’s serious,” he said. “We’d just let the FA or whoever deal with whatever’s next, the scores or what happens with the points. At the time, it’s about making sure we’re a team. We don’t stand for it and we want the world to see that. That we don’t stand for the silly abuse.”
Abraham spoke publicly after he was abused online following the home game for Chelsea against Liverpool. His team-mate, Fikayo Tomori, had a different understanding of the likely outcome should there be an incident of racial abuse. He said that it had been made clear to the players that they should follow the Uefa protocol.
“The manager told us what the steps are that need to be taken,” Tomori said. “I am sure everyone will take them. It is not right. Unfortunately it [racism] happens, it shouldn’t really happen. We know it is not right and not fair. It is the way the world is now that things like that happen. They have the protocols in place now.”
England can qualify for Euro 2020 if they beat the Czechs on Friday night and Abraham joins up with eight goals in the Premier League this season. He described Kane as the “best striker in the world” and said that he would learn from the England captain, who remains the team’s first choice.
“I’ve come here to steal ideas,” Abraham said. “Harry Kane is one of the best strikers in the world. I’ve come to learn the other parts of his game, add it to my game as well.”
He acknowledged that the week was destined to be dominated by the issue of racism but that the players and staff were determined to make a stand.
He said: “Watching the gaffer speaking [on Monday], he was quite keen on putting a stop to it. No one wants it in football. It’s not just affecting one person, it’s affecting the team. It’s a team decision if we decide in the end that we don’t want to play this game any more because of what’s going on, we’ll come off as a team.”
Meanwhile, Sheffield United goalkeeper Dean Henderson has been called up to the England squad for the first time to replace Aston Villa’s Tom Heaton, who has an unspecified injury.