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Families of former Saints stars decide not to travel to Euro Championships
IT should be the proudest moment for any parent – watching as their son steps out for England in one of the world’s major sporting events.
But the families of two former Saints players will not share that precious moment with their boys – for fear of coming under attack from racist thugs.
In doing so they have sacrificed their chance to cheer them on from the stands as concerns grow over possible violent attacks in the Euro 2012 host countries Poland and Ukraine.
The concerns are shared by former England international Sol Campbell, who last night warned England fans to sidestep the competition because of the threat of racism and violence that could put their lives at risk.
The former Portsmouth defender has criticised UEFA for choosing Poland and Ukraine to host the tournament – a decision he believes has put supporters in real danger.
It is a danger being taken very seriously by the families of Arsenal’s Walcott and 18-year-old Oxlade-Chamberlain, who won his first international cap on Saturday during the friendly against Norway.
Theo’s brother Ashley confirmed he and his dad, Don, had decided to stay at home on his Twitter page.
He tweeted: “Unfortunately my dad and I have taken the decision not to travel to the Ukraine because of the fear of possible racist attacks [and] confrontations.
“Some things aren’t worth risking but begs the question why hold a competition of this magnitude in a place that cannot police itself for foreigners of any creed to feel safe. But I’ll be watching every minute.
“Racism has no place in the modern world.”
Oxlade-Chamberlain’s Hampshire-based family had been planning to head to the Ukraine to see the teenager – the youngest player in new manager’s Roy Hodgson’s team – gain his first competitive cap.
But his dad, former England international Mark Chamberlain, announced those plans had been shelved due to the growing concern around racist attacks in the country.
However, he wouldn’t rule out a trip if England and Alex were to make it to the latter stages of the competition.
He said: “[The decision to travel] could change at any time.
“At this moment in time there are concerns. If England do well and as the tournament goes on – and if Alex is involved more than I think he may be – then a decision will be made at that time.
“It’s just my personal choice, really. I wouldn’t go into it, it’s nothing definite but there have been reports over the last couple of weeks of racist taunts and threats so it’s just prudent for myself to keep away from it.
“It’s very disappointing, but your safety’s more important than a game of football.”
Teammates and the England manager have expressed their sadness that the families have been forced to take such tough decisions.
Manchester City defender Joleon Lescott said: “It’s a shame for some members of the squad that their families feel they can’t go and obviously it’s a situation that needs to be addressed.
“But I think we always will be [talking about it]. You can’t get rid of it from people’s minds.”
Roy Hodgson added: “It is sad some of the families are not going. These matters are totally and utterly out of our control.
“We can only have faith and trust in UEFA that they are aware of these problems, particularly in the Ukraine, and we can only hope they can solve them.”
Eastern European countries have a track record of racist incidents. Last year the Bulgarian Football Union was fined £34,230 after fans abused England’s Ashley Young.
“Monkey” chants were shouted at former England striker Emile Heskey by Croatians in 2008 and a banana thrown at Brazilian World Cup winner Roberto Carlos in Russia last year.
A BBC documentary, screened last night, investigated violence and racism at football matches in the Ukraine.
It contained footage of fans giving the Nazi salute, taunting black players with monkey noises, anti-Semitic chants and a group of Asian students being attacked at the Metalist Stadium, Kharkiv, one of the venues hosting matches in the Ukraine.
However, former Chelsea striker and Ukraine international Andriy Shevchenko insists there is “no real problem” with racism in his home country and that fans have nothing to worry about. The 35-year-old said: “The country’s very quiet and people are very friendly. We never have heard problems about racism.”
However, the Foreign Office’s own travel advice warns: “Those of Asian or Afro-Caribbean descent and religious minorities should take care.”
The Football Supporters’ Federation is advising fans to show “common sense” and not to wander off the beaten track.
In a statement UEFA said: “UEFA’s zero-tolerance approach to racism is still valid both on and off the pitch and ultimately the referee has the power to stop or abandon a match should racist incidents occur.”