Usually, a 5-1 win in a match that featured discrimination would see the result and the performances overshadowed, with the fixture portrayed in a negative fashion and the focus on the fans who committed such a ridiculous act. But England's win over Montenegro, and particularly the performances of Raheem Sterling and Callum Hudson-Odoi in the face of racial prejudice, only highlighted how special these players and their manager are.
The response to such events, events that saw Danny Rose taunted with monkey chants late on after receiving a yellow card, from both manager and players has been to a level of education and intelligence that those holding views discriminatory towards any race aren't able to comprehend.
There was plenty of opportunity for the England players to allow such taunts to affect their game, a game that Gareth Southgate has implemented since his appointment in 2016, yet it was only after they had eased past Montenegro that they turned their attention to such matters. This generation of Three Lions players now have an identity after years of soulless performances and mediocre football, but more importantly, they also have the personalities to go with it.
But, as a country and as football fans, we do not deserve what Southgate and co. are giving us. The headlines may say Montenegro fans are the offenders on this occasion, and the image being painted of racism being a foreign problem and occurred only because England were away from home, but English football has been in denial for years upon the subject of racism in football.
From racial stereotypes such as 'pace and power' in football punditry to the stalking of black footballers joined by the obsession of how they spend their money and the nature in which they cut their hair, anyone attempting to discuss these issues has received some kind of backlash before usually by middle-aged white men with 41 followers on Twitter. Since the World Cup and the country falling in love with the team created by Southgate, it's more common for fans and journalists alike to stand against the media treatment black players receive, but it's an issue that should have been discussed earlier, not just when said player is in form.
Southgate, as excellent as always, made sure not to forget to mention how this issue still remains in England when addressing Monday night's events. "Sanctions are worthless if there is nothing alongside that to help educate people. My kids don't think for one minute about where people are born, what language they speak, what colour they are," Southgate told ITV.
"There's an innocence about young people that is only influenced by older people. So, we have to make sure that education is right for everybody. In our country, it's the same. I've said this before, I'm not sitting here just criticising what's happened tonight because in our country we have the same issue. We're not free of it."
"In the end, I think I tried to protect my players as much as I possibly can. I’m not the authority on the subject. I’m a middle-aged white guy speaking about racism."
The 48-year-old couldn't be more correct. The issue remains in the country and many still don't fully support the eradication of racism in football, let alone everyday life. There's a common conception that for something to be seen as racist it has to be a derogatory phrase or to be flat-out racist, but tackling racism is more than that. Darren Moore's sacking at West Brom raised a discussion as to if the colour of his skin was different, would West Brom have dismissed him, given the lack of black managers who have had recognised sustained success in football. Though I share no view on this argument, the world of social media users jumped to their keyboard to continually write about the use of the 'race card'. This is only more evidently highlighted following Chris Powell's sacking at Southend United on Tuesday morning. Those who probably sided with Sterling last night and pretended for one night to care about fighting racism then woke up the next morning to reply to the announcement with 'It'll be racial, no doubt', or mocking the idea of Sol Campbell speaking up on the issues surrounding opportunities for black managers.
Sterling's sentiment was also as enlightening as his manager's: "I just wanted to show them that you’re going to need more than that to upset us and stop us because what can I do? We know, all of us know what skin colour we are, so I don’t know what the big issue is, it’s not like you’re telling us anything new,” the Manchester City forward told Sky Sports.
Callum Hudson-Odoi, who was meant to be overwhelmed with pride following his first start for England at just 18, instead was answering questions asking had he heard abuse of a racist nature, to which he responded excellently, saying: 'We have to play a fair game and enjoy the moment but when you’re hearing stuff like that from the fans it’s not right. It’s unacceptable and hopefully UEFA deal with it properly because when I went over there me and Rosey [Danny Rose] heard it, all the monkey noises," he told beIN Sports.
The Chelsea starlet also revealed members of the England team, Sterling in particular, had warned him about potential instances of discrimination as he launches his promising career, showing how much racism persists in the game.
Many players are told to stick to football and only football, especially if their form isn't at a high-level. Paul Pogba is a big one for this. Unless he's scoring and assisting each week, his celebrations should be minimal, he should lay-low off the pitch, he shouldn't have the hairstyle or hair colour he wishes to have and to post on his own social media is a huge no-no in the eyes of some. There's a tendency for the media and a section of football fans to dislike the idea of black players that don't 'shut up and dribble', to use a phrase from the world of basketball.
Players such as N'Golo Kanté, who opts against life in the limelight, is a hero in the eyes of the media because he's 'humble' and focuses on his football. It's also likely to be because he 'knows his place', stays quiet, and doesn't give off the impression he earns more than a white man. Many middle-aged pundits are sure to tell you they'll take Kanté over Pogba, which is not controversial, as football is a game of opinions. But when you ask for the explanation as to why it always comes back to the way Pogba behaves, his dancing and his haircuts. Not his footballing qualities or weaknesses. There's a constant hatred hidden deep in some for a player who has never done anything but enjoy life and Sterling is also a culprit of this.
It's important not to forget, Sterling was destroyed by publications for his switch to Manchester City and labelled a 'money-grabber' in 2015. What followed was an attempt to drag him whenever possible and a running-theme of mocking the number of children he has become common, despite the fact he only had a little girl at the time. Up until the World Cup last summer, it was a regular for Sterling to be booed at stadiums that he had no connection or past relationship within the Premier League. Why? Because he furthered his chances of success in his career, a move now proved to be correct, and the financial package that came with it had outraged those who failed to use their privilege to make it further than a young black boy from Jamaica.
So in truth, we are not worthy of Gareth Southgate, nor of this England team. Raheem Sterling was subject to torrid treatment in his own country for years and on many occasions, suffered alone. Yet, at just 24, amidst the attempt by many to bring him down, he's developed into a remarkable football player and an ambassador for the fight against racism in football. His growing influence on the topic can only be a positive thing to rid of racism and to inspire young athletes that fear of discrimination shouldn't leave them shying away.
Not only are Southgate and his players exciting us with their form and on-field performances, they're also educating us along the way and waking those in the country up to issues rooted deep in the mindsets of some and long may it continue.