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Hodgson urges squad to attempt to 'enjoy' Euros

Manager praises team's work rate at first squad meeting but racism fears cast shadow
  • @SamWallaceIndy

Roy Hodgson held his first squad meeting with his full array of senior England players yesterday, telling them that they had "worked bloody hard" for their place at Euro 2012 and, in keeping with his low-key approach to the tournament, saying they should "go and enjoy" the tournament.

The arrival of Wayne Rooney, Frank Lampard, John Terry, Ashley Cole and Gary Cahill meant that for the first time since he named his squad seven days ago, Hodgson now has his full complement of outfield players. The squad will not be complete until today when Birmingham City goalkeeper Jack Butland, a replacement for the injured John Ruddy, joins up.

Hodgson addressed the squad and staff at the team hotel in Hertfordshire yesterday before taking training in the late afternoon. His emphasis on making sure that the pressure does not become excessive for them was reflected in his words to the players. He has, on the whole, picked players who figured in the qualification campaign and that was expressed in his remarks that they had worked hard to reach the competition.

At training yesterday Ashley Young was the only outfield player missing – he was in the gym – a precaution after a blow to the head in the friendly against Norway. Danny Welbeck and Glen Johnson, the two major injury concerns when Hodgson passed his 23 names to Uefa yesterday, both played a full part in training, allaying the fears over their condition.

The squad were also assigned numbers yesterday with Andy Carroll given the No 9 shirt ahead of Welbeck (22) and Frank Lampard given No 8 ahead of Scott Parker (17). England will wear their navy and light blue away kit against Sweden in their second group game but they will not take a traditional red away kit, the colour that Sir Alf Ramsey's team won the World Cup in in 1966.

The Football Association also announced that a group of players, staff and officials would visit Auschwitz and Birkenau, near to the squad's base in Krakow, between their arrival on 6 June and their first game against France five days later. There will also be a visit to Schindler's Factory in the city.

The backdrop of England's departure to their base in Poland and their three group games in Ukraine continued to be the prospect of racial abuse from Polish and Ukrainian fans, in the light of the BBC Panorama investigation, "Stadiums of Hate", into the far right's influence on football in both countries. The Ukrainian ambassador to the UK, Volodymyr Khandogiy, condemned the BBC's portrayal of both countries as "biased and unbalanced".

The BBC programme featured Ukrainian fans making monkey noises at black players and giving fascist salutes, among other things. There was also footage of Asian students being attacked during a game at the Metalist stadium in Kharkiv, one of the four stadiums in Ukraine that will be used for the tournaments.

Mario Balotelli, who was given the Italy No 9 shirt yesterday, said that he would walk off the pitch if he was racially abused. "Let's see what happens at the Euros. I hope that there will not be a problem [with racism]. Because I really can't handle that," he said. "I cannot bear racism, it's unacceptable for me. If it had happened again I would straight away leave the pitch and go home. We are in 2012. It can't happen."

On the Panorama documentary, Khandogiy said: "I was appalled [by the programme]... the government's response is clear: we do not have the problem as it was portrayed in that programme on a societal level or a systemic level. Of course there are incidents and isolated occasions and different behaviours, but is has nothing to do with Euro 2012.

"Ukraine has always had a record of being a tolerant country. We've had so many foreign students in Ukraine for so many years and we have never had a problem at the scale that was portrayed. They should have interviewed numerous football players from Africa and Asia who are now playing in Ukraine. I don't know any serious incidents on racial grounds that has happened to them.

"It is damaging [to Ukraine]. There are many things that can be criticised in Ukraine but not this one. There was a State Department human rights report into Ukraine last year – there was a lot of criticism but they singled out racism, xenophobia and anti-semitism as not being a problem."

The Ukrainian ambassador also reminded Britain of its own imperial past when defending his country's reputation. "Ukrainians have never had a superiority complex – we have never conquered or colonised any country. On the contrary, we have been conquered and colonised by many countries."

Nevertheless, the claims made in the BBC documentary about Ukraine were borne out by the Without Borders anti-racist watchdog in Ukraine. Iryna Fedorovich said: "It's a pity we have had to wait for the Euros to start talking about this problem.

"People are always calling us, saying, 'We have suffered. We were attacked. We were insulted because we don't have the same colour or the same religion.' The problem is with the authorities who have stayed silent about this for such a long time."

The Polish government has written to the BBC to complain about the portrayal of their country where supporters were filmed singing anti-Semitic songs and using racist imagery. The head of the country's Euro 2012 committee has also invited Sol Campbell to visit the country personally after the former England international appeared on the documentary and warned fans from ethnic minorities not to travel to the tournament.

The Polish prime minister Donald Tusk said that no visitor to Poland would be in danger because of his or her race. Ruud Gullit, the former Netherlands captain, now a Sky Sports pundit, who won Euro 1988, said that players who were racially abused during games should exercise their right to walk off the pitch in protest.

England: Squad numbers

1 Joe Hart

2 Glen Johnson

3 Ashley Cole

4 Steven Gerrard

5 Gary Cahill

6 John Terry

7 Theo Walcott

8 Frank Lampard

9 Andy Carroll

10 Wayne Rooney

11 Ashley Young

12 Leighton Baines

13 Robert Green

14 Phil Jones

15 Joleon Lescott

16 James Milner

17 Scott Parker

18 Phil Jagielka

19 Stewart Downing

20 Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain

21 Jermain Defoe

22 Danny Welbeck

23 Jack Butland