Racial abuse driving players from the very top to lower leagues out of football

  • Video report by ITV News Correspondent Paul Davies

The scourge of racial abuse is threatening to drive players at the top of the football pyramid right down to non-league level out of the game.

After England defender Danny Rose revealed he "can't wait" for his career to end, another young player has revealed he has decided to walk away from the game he loves following "ridiculous amounts" of abuse he suffered.

Linford Harris says he's had enough at just 24 after being subjected to deplorable abuse during a Leicestershire County cup final earlier this week.

He told ITV News: "Football is everything to me, it's what I love. I know what he's feeling (Danny Rose). You turn the TV on to see him do some magic.

"Someone like me, (in the) lower leagues, it's the same, the same emotions that we go through. For it to stop, just keep talking, keep fighting."

Mr Harris, who was captain of FC Wymeswold against Cosby United on Wednesday, told how his side - 1-0 down at the time - had just been awarded a penalty when the racial abuse began.

He reported it to match officials but claims they ignored it.

He was sent off a little later for a second bookable offence and again heard abuse as he left the pitch.

After getting changed, he returned to the pitch and it was then that he and his teammates decided "as one" to abandon the game because of the racial abuse.

"I don't know what to do. The more you speak out, the better it gets, the more people hear of it," he told ITV News.

"Professionals like Raheem Sterling and Danny Rose, we look up to them, we do listen to them. We do actually go off their actions because if it weren't for them, I'd be stuck in a place where I don't know what to do."

And, like Tottenham Hotspur player Danny Rose, he's now had enough.

"I'm done with the game, finished with it. It's not for me no more," he said.

Danny Rose says he's 'had enough' of the game. Credit: PA

The 28-year-old - who discussed the issue for the first time after his side Tottenham's 2-0 victory over Crystal Palace on Wednesday night - described the current punishments as "a farce".

He said he even expected to be racially abused when playing for England in Montenegro last month, but did not want to speak out after the game and take the gloss off his team's 5-1 victory.

Rose, who along with Callum Hudson-Odoi and Raheem Sterling were targeted during the Euro 2020 qualifier, believes nothing will be done to combat the problem while offending countries are fined the amount "I probably spend on a night out in London".

"I have had enough," he said. "At the minute, how I've programmed myself now, I just think that I've got five or six more years left in football and I just can't wait to see the back of it, seeing how things are done in the game at the minute.

"It's just 'whatever' isn't it, so you just have to get on with it. That's how I feel.

"I feel I've got five or six more years left and I just want to enjoy football as much as I can.

"There's so many politics and whatever in football and I just can't wait to see the back of it, to be honest.

"Obviously, it's sad but when countries only get fined what I probably spend on a night out in London then what do you expect? When the punishment's not as harsh...

"You see my manager (Mauricio Pochettino) get banned for two games for just being confrontational against (referee) Mike Dean at Burnley.

"But yet a country can only get fined a little bit of money for being racist. It's just a bit of a farce at the minute.

"That's where we're at now in football and until there's a harsh punishment there's not much else we can expect I don't think."

Manchester United's newly appointed manager Ole Gunnar Solskjær was visibly upset when speaking to ITV News Sports Editor Steve Scott about Rose's admission he "can't wait" to retire.

"It's heartbreaking", he said after being told about Rose's comments, adding: "I didn't know that's the way he felt and it's so sad."

When asked if football is letting black players down, Solskjær said: "It's society as well, you can't stop everyone, there are, pardon my French, but there are idiots anywhere.

"I don't think football can take responsibility for some individual's actions but when it happens we need to get rid of them."

Solskjær who was at a local school for a Manchester United foundation event, said he would accept if any of his players took the decision to leave the pitch over racism and "the football authorities would understand as well".

"Either the game would have to be played again or stopped for ten minutes - but then the idiots win again so we can't let them win."

Raheem Sterling gestures to the crowd in Montenegro after being subjected to repeated 'monkey' chants. Credit: PA

Rose said that he did not want the focus to be taken away from England's impressive week, where they also beat Czech Republic 5-0, and he was expecting to be racially abused, having been on the receiving end when playing with England Under-21s in Serbia several years ago.

Rose said: "I'd sort of prepared myself anyway for what happened so I was fine. I prepared myself for it.

"We won and we'll just wait for whatever punishment if any punishment happens, and just wait and see what happens.

"I wasn't upset. I just didn't want the focus to be on me.

"I have to say it was a very small minority out of the fans that were doing the chants so I didn't want the post-match to be about me.

"I played in Serbia about eight years ago and it happened there so I sort of thought it was a possibility it may happen again, and it did.

"I looked up straight away in the first half and I know the exact time it happened in the first half.

"It didn't affect my game. I'm a big boy now. Three points obviously isn't the most important thing when you're going through things like that, but I just wanted the team to get three points and we just move on and get out of Montenegro as quickly as possible."

The unsavoury scenes in Podgorica do at least appear to the be the catalyst for change as managers, including Gareth Southgate and Pochettino, have spoken about taking their side off the field if racist incidents occurred again.

Callum Hudson-Odoi was subjected to racial abuse in Montenegro. Credit: PA

"I spoke to Gareth after the game. I didn't mention it at half-time so he wasn't aware of what was happening until he heard it right at the end.

"The manager was a bit upset to be fair because he said it's the first time he's been involved in something like that, and he said he didn't know what the right course of action was to do.

"He said he was fully behind me if we wanted to walk off. I appreciate that but as I said I just wanted to get the three points and get out of there as quickly as possible."

Former England defender Paul Parker does not think walking off the pitch is the right answer, though.

"No, I don't agree with that," Parker said.

"There have been too many good men, even before my time, who have stood their ground and were virtually saying to themselves, 'Why should I give you what you want? That would mean you have won'. You should never let a minority win any battle.