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Saturday 10 December 2016

Gareth Southgate denies any racial divide

Gareth Southgate
Gareth Southgate

England U21s head coach Gareth Southgate finds accusations of a racial divide within football a "little bit difficult to stomach".

A picture taken at the recent Toulon tournament showed the country's Under-20s squad split across two tables, with one fully inhabited by black players and another white.

There were a few other photos included in a British newspaper article, with the headline asking: "What do these photos tell us about race in Britain today?"

The article says the players seemed to subconsciously divide themselves into black and white and Southgate was asked about the report ahead of England Under-21s' European Championship qualifier against Sweden.

"I think the article was talking about a social issue, rather than a specific team issue," the former defender said in Olomouc.

"It is quite clear to me in my experiences with England junior teams that there is no issue. It was a picture that was unrepresentative of what goes on in our development teams.

"I think anyone who has seen this group of players and staff mix over the last two years, or if they have been around the hotel or the training ground for the last couple of weeks alone, will see the realities of the situation."

Southgate oversees the coaches with responsibility for the U20s through to the U16s in addition to his role with the U21s, whose winger Nathan Redmond regularly nodded in agreement with his manager when the subject was broached in the pre-match press conference.

Asked if it was unfair to portray the Football Association in this light or whether the FA reflects what happens in society, Southgate said: "Well, I'm looking out at the room and not seeing a very multi-cultural room.

"I think football can improve. I grew up in a dressing room when I first started playing football with Chris Powell and John Salako, who were my team-mates at youth-team level. I am still very close friends with those guys.

"Mark (Bright) and Ian (Wright) were in the first team - I don't know anything different.

"For me, sport crosses religion, race, everything else. I am well aware of the problems in society and I am well aware that we can all do better, but I find the accusation of a split within teams and in football a little bit difficult to stomach, really."

Meanwhile, Jesse Lingard's impressive, late strike gave England U21s' European Championship hopes a timely shot in the arm having made hard work of their clash with Sweden.

Southgate's men struggled for fluency throughout a Group B tie which was heading for a draw until substitute Lingard volleyed home from the edge of the box five minutes from time, securing the Young Lions a somewhat fortuitous 1-0 win. It was the U21s' first finals victory in six years and boosted their hopes of progressing to the semi-finals ahead of Wednesday's encounter with Italy.

However, Southgate will be all too aware that better will be required against the Azzurini, with a decent performance tailing off dramatically after half-time.

Harry Kane and Will Hughes had the Young Lions' best first-half chances, with Sweden threatening to grab a winner after Carl Jenkinson fired into the side-netting.

England were running out of ideas as they hunted for a winner, only for Lingard, on for the injured Alex Pritchard, to strike the decisive blow by volleying home from the edge of the box.

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