Slovakia Sorry Over Racist Abuse14 October 2002

Emile Heskey and Ashley Cole will be receiving apologies from the Slovakian Football Association in the wake of the racial abuse which they endured in last weekend’s Euro 2004 qualifier.

The Slovakian ambassador to London and the general secretary of the Slovakian FA met Football Association director of international affairs David Davies today in the wake of the problems in Bratislava. FA head of communications Paul Newman revealed,
“They handed over an apology letter for the racial chanting, something which they roundly condemn. They will be writing personally to Emile Heskey and Ashley Cole to repeat that apology, and those letters will be delivered to the players within the next 24 hours.”

Meanwhile Heskey revealed that he was so concerned by the racial abuse of players around Europe that he would not travel abroad to support England with his family. Heskey admitted he was frightened by the scale of the abuse hurled at himself and Ashley Cole during England’s Euro 2004 qualifier in Slovakia last Saturday.

“I wouldn’t travel abroad as an England fan. I’d go to the home matches but I’d rather keep it at that because of the fans in the other countries. I wouldn’t put my family through any of that. In 2002, you’d have thought that everyone’s minds would have changed by now but it’s still the same. It’s very sad and it came as a shock,”
admitted Heskey.

Despite having been spat at and racially abused by a Yugoslav Under-21 player in a game in Barcelona in 1999, Heskey still thought Saturday’s events were on a different scale.

“It was still worse. To have the whole stadium shouting at you and making those gestures was frightening, to be fair. There were even people sat next to our bench doing things and the police next to them were doing nothing about it. There was a stage in the first half when I was getting a bit mad, but sometimes you do try and understand the stuff they’ve been through and they haven’t seen that many black people in their country. Then again, they see black people all the time on television and there are a lot of black players around Europe, so there’s no reason for it to go on like that. You feel hurt that they are looking at you for your colour, not you as a person. You want to go and perform really well and show them what you can do and hopefully change their views.”

Heskey believes that the whole unedifying trip to Slovakia, complete with supporters being shot, crowd trouble, appalling conditions and a close call on the pitch, could at least have long-term benefits in one sense.

“It did make us get a bit closer as a squad,” he added. “A lot of the players said ‘keep your head up, we got the win that we deserved and it shows them what you can do on the pitch’. Ashley is coping well too. He had some problems at PSV Eindhoven as well so he’s come through it before, and he did really well.”