Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher did not hold back in the problems facing the UK in the wake of the racial abuse suffered by Manchester City star Raheem Sterling at Chelsea on Saturday.
City forward Sterling, 24, was subject to alleged racist taunts during Saturday evening’s Premier League game at Stamford Bridge – leading to the London club suspending four of their fans.
On Sky Sports’ Monday Night Football, Carragher and Neville were given the platform to discuss the alleged abuse aimed at Sterling alongside presenter David Jones, with Neville revealing that the winger came to him during Euro 2016 to seek advice over criticism he was receiving at the time.
Here’s the full transcript…
David Jones: Chelsea have suspended four fans from attending matches following allegations of racial abuse towards Raheem Sterling. Gary, what’s your take on this issue?
Gary Neville: “Out of an obvious negative there is a big positive. I saw it break on social media and saw Raheem’s statement. It’s provoked a huge reaction from everybody. It made me reflect on my experiences with Raheem, having worked with him for four years with England.
“I had a personal experience with him directly in 2016. I felt speaking about that was breaching player-coach confidence so I actually rang him to ask if I could speak about it because I thought it was important that he didn’t feel like I’d breached his confidence.
“He came to see me one-on-one in 2016, a few days before the Iceland game [at the European Championships]. He was getting absolutely battered going into that tournament, getting so much stick. We were aware that the fans, the media were on to him and asking a lot of questions about him. It then continued on into the tournament and into stadiums to a point where there were groans and little boos. It takes a lot for a player to come and see a coach.
“I was in the analysis room, he came in and started to download on me, asking why this was happening and why it was so personal. He accepted that he would get criticism playing for England for his performance levels. He accepted he would be scrutinised as an England player and didn’t want any special treatment – but that it was so vicious and that he felt so targeted that he didn’t know what to do about it.
“What I saw was somebody who has a great mentality and is tough but also a level of vulnerability in terms of how does he deal and cope with it, how does he come out of it? As a coach, on reflection, I didn’t really know how to deal with it and I went into a protective mode and thought about how I would get one of our most important players ready for the next match.
“I told him he was a great player and we loved him to bits, which we did – he played nearly all the games for us – and tried to almost patch him up to get him to a point where he can play without addressing the underlying issue. But on reflection now that may have been brushing it aside a little bit in all honesty.
“I told him he was strong and good enough to play for England and that it had happened to players before him. But there was a deep down understanding that there was a total difference to the attacks he was getting compared to others.
“Directly in that tournament, Harry Kane, who is the blue-eyed boy of English football, a sensational player we love to bits, was having a difficult time in that tournament and it was portrayed that it was because he was on corners. Raheem was having a difficult time and it was portrayed as other reasons, more personal reasons at times, and the language used towards him was difficult. I don’t think he could understand and he was asking me why this was happening.
“Post-tournament we got knocked out and it was bad from a football point of view but the abuse he received, particularly in the media, beyond that tournament, and the language that was used, was something I’ve not seen before.
“I’ve lived closely with David Beckham and Wayne Rooney, played in Euro 96 with Paul Gascoigne and seen a lot over the years, but there’s a nastiness there now. I look back and think about ‘walking on the other side’, not dealing with the real issue, trying to patch Raheem up – was that the right reaction?
“He was and is willing to stand up and carry on playing to an outstanding level, but he’s been carrying this now for years, this is not just a Chelsea fan at the weekend, it’s been going on for years with him. It’s a really difficult situation and one which I think how I would deal with if put in that situation again, how would I try and help him? He’s a tough lad to come through everything he’s come through and the scrutiny, to perform like he has done is a miracle almost.”
Jones: This is a player you’ve shared a dressing room with at Liverpool. What’s your insight, Jamie?
Jamie Carragher: “I was there with Raheem as a young kid. In this country there are probably five to 10 million people that watch live games, highlights or whatever it may be. What is the perception of Raheem Sterling in this country for most people, who buy papers and read media stuff online?
“The perception is of a young, flash, black kid from London, really, and a lot of it comes from the fact that maybe he moved on from Liverpool. The perception that he’s more interested in cars, jewellery and nightclubs rather than his actual football.
“Anyone reading that, anyone writing that – I can assure you that is absolute, utter nonsense. It’s garbage.
“Raheem Sterling’s a mouse. I can’t even really remember speaking to him that much at Liverpool. He didn’t really speak. He was so quiet, he got on with his training and he wasn’t loud in the dressing room. He wasn’t late, and he wasn’t going on nights out. He was just a young kid, who was very humble, and he came in and trained very well.
“I’ll go back to the leaving Liverpool thing because I don’t think there was anything there before that. I think Liverpool and other clubs are seen as the establishment and then Chelsea 10 years ago and certainly Man City now are seen as the new kids on the block who are throwing their money about. When he made that move a lot of it came from that.
“Now, I was very critical of Raheem Sterling at that time. I thought he made mistakes, maybe more the people who were around him. But he’s never been able to shake that off, this tag of being more interested in money and different other things. And the fact is his life is put out there. He buys a house for his mother, he might buy a car, a ring or whatever it might be but that is always the story around Raheem Sterling.”
Jones: Do you think the way he is portrayed, does that have racial undertones?
Carragher: “Yes, I think it does. There is no doubt about that. We know what happened at the weekend. The debate now is whether the stuff in the media is racial. There are people arguing for and against it. I think there are undertones there of racism.
“I go back to when I was a kid and I can only remember the mid-eighties – I know racism went on before that which was probably worse – but from 30 years ago the famous picture is John Barnes back-heeling a banana away during the Merseyside derby.
“I was at that game, so I grew up in that environment. That was 30 years ago and while I don’t think we should forget that we’ve come a long way since then, but it’s obviously not far enough from what happened at the weekend.
“The one thing I thought, and you think about actual change, that game was live on TV and with social media it goes everywhere. The one worry I have, and I hope I’m wrong, if that was a 3pm game on a Saturday and it wasn’t live. The big problem you have in terms of actual change is this being accepted by people around the guy who is saying this stuff.
“Until that happens I don’t think it can change because you can’t stop one guy shouting a comment but if he’s getting outed in a stadium – and not just him because this is going on at stadiums all around the place. There was an incident also at Arsenal last week. I think until that happens, where people feel uncomfortable themselves in a stadium shouting racist abuse, or any other abuse, that’s when you might finally stamp it out.”
Jones: Is this racism we are dealing with? What can we do?
Neville: “I would go further and, to be fair, I have probably thought about this more in the past 24 hours than I ever have done. There have been times on this show when we have avoided taking on the subject actually, but Raheem Sterling, with what he did yesterday, has forced us to take it on. So that’s a start.
“It’s not undertones, it’s blatant actually and I started thinking about whether it happened to anyone when I was playing for England. There was a lad I used to sit next to in the changing room for 10 years called Ashley Cole.
“Out of the golden generation, he was the only one I could actually say was world class in his position. He has had to escape this country. He is almost like a football refugee seeking asylum in MLS to get away from it, the way he has been treated.
“I think over the last few days I have heard people say Gazza got stick and David Beckham got stick and Wayne Rooney got stick. I lived closely to two of those lads in terms of witnessing it and it was horrific, the vilification that they got when they made mistakes. But do you know, when it was good for them they were hero worshipped. When it was good for Ashley Cole or Raheem Sterling, they don’t get the hero worship.
“Gazza was hero-worshipped when it was good. Becks was hero-worshipped when it was good. It was unbelievable for those lads. They were up here. So you are missing the point to say they got stick when it was bad, because when Ashley Cole and Raheem Sterling are up there it doesn’t get that good, they don’t get the appreciation.
“I even look back to my time coaching with England when Rickie Lambert scored that goal or when Jamie Vardy came into the team. Oh, he is one of ours. But it wasn’t like that when Danny Welbeck came in or when Marcus Rashford came into the squad.
“The evidence is actually quite heavy when you start to look at it in terms of the appreciation of the black players compared to the white players that played for England.
“I am part of the problem because I have been sat there in changing rooms and as a coach and seen a lot of it. I grew up in the mid-80s in the north of England where you are surrounded by racism or racist attitudes. It has changed a lot in the last 40 years, don’t get me wrong, but nowhere near far enough. It’s there.”
Jones: So what are we going to do about it? What you are saying in a sense is we are part of the problem. If we haven’t spoken about these issues before then absolutely we should’ve done, but what can we do moving forward?
Neville: “I spoke to him yesterday and I didn’t ask him this because it’s not my place to ask, I don’t know him like the back of my hand and I’m not a deep friend or anything like that. But I would imagine that when he was writing that message he will have thought long and hard about pressing that button to send because he will have been thinking what it would bring him.
“Actually, to be fair, everyone has reacted in the right way to it because it has started a debate. The question you are asking is what will happen beyond today, beyond Raheem’s message.
“We are at a moment where every time I turn the news on it’s about Brexit. Brexit was fought largely on an issue of immigration. You see kids that are refugees trying to get into America who are getting tear gassed. There are a lot of issues here.
“There are 600-odd MPs in the Houses of Parliament who don’t represent us or this country or what we are. I think it’s a massive problem in society.
“What can football do? It can show zero tolerance. So what Chelsea did today was welcome as those people should never set foot in a football stadium again. That’s the only way you can do it. You empower black players to do what Raheem has done. Raheem was strong enough to come out of it, his mentality is incredible.
“He has made it through three years of horror, media intrusion, scrutiny and vilification to have his best ever season last year and he’s a star. And just the fact that we are having this conversation on here now is a good thing.”