Young won't let threat of racism spoil his big day

 

Krakow

Pre-tournament fears of racism in Poland and Ukraine have already been realised but Ashley Young is adamant that nothing will distract him when England begin their campaign tomorrow.

The racist chanting directed at the Dutch squad was followed by suggestions from the Football Against Racism in Europe (FARE) network claiming similar abuse had occurred among Russia fans as their team beat the Czech Republic 4-1 on Friday. It is an ominous portent of what is to come, with England set to fly out to Donetsk today ahead of their Group G opener against France. Young is one of several squad members who has been targeted before.

Last September, Bulgarian supporters aimed monkey chants at Young, Theo Walcott and Ashley Cole as England secured a 3-0 win in Sofia to strengthen their hand in qualifying for Euro 2012. Young left the field in the 62nd-minute, being replaced by James Milner, with the disgusting abuse clearly audible during a pause in play.

Uefa fined the Bulgarian Football Association a paltry £34,000 and the governing body have been repeated criticised for their failure to meet such antiquated attitudes with a firmer response. Uefa have pledged zero tolerance at these finals but they are under mounting pressure to act just three days in. Several players, including the Italy and Manchester City striker Mario Balotelli, have claimed they will leave the field if they hear any racist abuse – Uefa curiously responded by insisting that individuals who do so could receive a yellow card.

The Football Association's official line is that they will leave such matters to be dealt with by the referee. Young insists he will remain wholly focused on the match at hand, as he did nine months ago.

"It didn't affect me [in Bulgaria]," said the Manchester United winger. "I can't speak for other players. I had to block it out in that game and get on with it. Uefa dealt with it after the game. The FA and Uefa took the matter into their hands. Uefa dealt with it and Bulgaria got fined.

"In that game it was disappointing. It got dealt with by Uefa. Bulgaria got fined. That was the matter left. Hopefully it doesn't happen in this tournament. If it does, I'm sure Uefa will deal with it. The fines aren't up to me. It's down to Uefa and how they deal with it. It's one of those things we shouldn't be sat here talking about it in this day and age. It shouldn't happen but it does happen. Uefa, now, have taken it upon themselves and said they'll deal with the matter."

Young has a longer history of suffering mindless mistreatment than it would first appear. He remembered a Sunday League match as a youngster when he was asked to reflect on the worst abuse of his career to date.

"I was 11 years old and was racially abused on the pitch," he said. "It was obviously disappointing to hear it at such a young age. You don't expect to hear it at any age, but when you're a youngster even more so, you don't expect to hear it. That was by another player.

"I'm not too sure what happened to him. I'm sure the matter was taken up by the managers. I turned around, got on with the game and managed to score two goals. It's one of those things you don't want to hear."

Young has now taken on a pivotal role for England. Since the 2010 World Cup, no England player has managed more than his six assists, the latest of which came last weekend against Belgium, from a central role behind a main striker. The 26-year-old has been used as a winger at Old Trafford but he played as a second striker at Aston Villa and believes he can thrive behind whichever striker Roy Hodgson opts to lead his 4-4-1-1 formation.

"I'm a versatile player," he said. "I have been throughout my career: up front, either wing, or off a main striker. I think I'm always confident in my own ability. We've got a tough game on Monday against a tough team in France. But as long as we're organised and everyone gives 100 per cent, we'll get the right result."

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