England reached next summer’s European Under-21 Championship last night but it was marred by racism and violence from Serbian players and fans at the final whistle.
Danny Rose was subject to monkey chants at the end of the match – which England won 1-0 – and was sent off after reacting angrily and kicking a water bottle. England players were bombarded by missiles as they celebrated Connor Wickham's winning goal in added time. There was a mass brawl between players and staff from both sides, spilling over into the tunnel. The England coach, Steve Wigley, was among those who had to be restrained as everyone tried to leave the pitch in the Mladost Stadium in Krusevac.
The England manager, Stuart Pearce, confirmed afterwards that there had been an apology from a Serbian official. "Savo Milosevic, their technical director, has come to our dressing room to apologise for any behaviour that was unsavoury," Pearce revealed after the game. "I never like to see any football matches end like that. This is a sporting arena."
Pearce also confirmed that his left-back Rose had been racially abused and that England have reported the incident. Rose appeared to mimic a monkey gesture back to the stands as he left the pitch, visibly distressed.
"I think there was one or two racist incidents from the crowd," Pearce said afterwards. "They've been reported to Uefa by us, it's in their hands now, they'll have to deal with that."
England captain Jordan Henderson also condemned the abuse. "There was a lot of racist abuse out there from the stands and a lot going on after the game, which is hard to take for the players," he said.
"There was also stones, coins and seats getting thrown at us. I didn't understand why Danny Rose was sent off at the end - I didn't see he did anything wrong, other than get abused."
Although the final scenes were ugly, Pearce was proud of how his young team conducted themselves under provocation from the hosts. "It's very sad," Pearce said. "But we're united as a team and as a staff at Under-21 level. A lot's happening in our country regarding stamping out racism. We're proud of the reaction of our players towards the end. It's a real shame, over two ties it was a real close game between two good teams."
An FA statement confirmed the association has lodged a complaint with Uefa: "The FA condemns both the scenes of racism and the confrontation at the final whistle during which time our players and staff were under extreme provocation. The FA has reported a number of incidents of racism to Uefa following the fixture. These were seemingly aimed at a number of England black players by the crowd. The matter is now with Uefa."
Pearce will now lead England Under-21s to Israel next summer for their fourth consecutive European Championship under his management. Taking a 1-0 lead to Serbia, England were under pressure for most of the game.
Birmingham City goalkeeper Jack Butland had to make a series of good saves. Centre-backs Steven Caulker and Craig Dawson had to work hard but England recorded their sixth clean sheet in seven matches.
Butland first had to save Nikola Ninkovic's shot and then from Darko Lazovic. An England side built on solid defence and pace on the break struggled to keep the ball as waves of Serbian attacks continued through the second half.
In stoppage time Serbia, needing one goal to take the tie to extra time, sent their goalkeeper forward for a set piece. England cleared the ball and Tom Ince broke down the right wing and set up Wickham to roll the winning goal into an empty net.
"We've come away from home, at a really difficult place to play and built on our lead from the first leg," a relieved Pearce said. "So I'm massively proud of the players and their achievement, they had to defend stoutly, so credit to them for that. The important thing, when the dust settles is that we're going to the championship next summer because we deserve to do so over two legs. We've given a good account of ourselves."
Race wars: England's abuse
Oct 2002, Slovakia v England
Ashley Cole and Emile Heskey targeted by Slovakian fans.
Nov 2004, Spain v England
Shaun Wright-Phillips and Cole subjected to monkey chants at the Bernabeu. Spanish FF fined £44,750.
June 2007, Eng U21 v Serbia U21
Serbian fans and players abuse Nedum Onuoha and Justin Hoyte.
Sept 2008, Croatia v England
Croatian Federation fined £15,000 after monkey chants aimed at Heskey in World Cup qualifier in Zagreb.
Sept 2011, Bulgaria v England
Bulgarian FA fined £32,000 following abuse towards Ashley Young during Euro 2012 qualifier in Sofia.