Gareth Southgate says England are surprised that 36,000 spectators will be allowed inside the Puskas Arena in Budapest for Saturday’s match against Hungary, which is nominally staged behind closed doors.
The League of Nations is one of five that Hungary has to host under sanctions, two of them suspended, after repeated misconduct by its supporters. Uefa gave a three-match stage closure in June for discriminatory behavior at Euro 2020while Fifa added two more in September after racist abuse blurred the last visit of England in the World Cup qualifiers.
Hungary’s 67,000-capacity ground will be more than half full, however, after the local FA was able to exploit Uefa regulations that allow an unlimited number of under-14s to attend such games. One adult is allowed to accompany all 10 children, meaning about 3,300 could be inside the stadium. England will use the hideout when they serve the first of his own two-match stadium ban against Italy on June 11, when about 3,000 children were able to watch at Molineux, but the prospect of a significantly larger crowd in Budapest raised eyebrows.
“I think we’re all surprised,” Southgate said. “But we invite kids to our stadium, so I wasn’t really clear about the rules for any of them. I don’t know what the [crowd size] should or should not be. We need to make sure that we are consistent in our beliefs, the position that we take as a team, the fact that we are united. [discrimination and racism] being unacceptable, and it is for other people to administer sanctions.
“After we administer sanctions, however, it has gone too far, so the key is education, and the youngsters in the stadium will hopefully take that message tomorrow.”
There is a precedent for matches to be contested in such conditions but there is also one for them to take a disgusting turn. When the Guardians visited Sparta Prague for the Europa League in September 2021, the Czech club was backed by around 10,000 minors despite a two-match ban from UEFA for previous racist abuse by fans. That night the Rangers midfielder Glen Kamara was whistled from the stands, six months after being racially abused by Slav Prague’s Ondrej Kudela in an incident that resulted in the defender being banned for 10 games. England will hope that there will be no repeat of last year’s events in Hungarywhere Raheem Sterling and Jude Bellingham were targeted with monkey chants during their 4-0 win and players were whistled for taking the knee.
“I would imagine that Hungary would feel just like us about restrictions on the home games and they wouldn’t want it to happen again,” Southgate said. “Everyone learns from every experience they’ve had. Our players, after that, just want to focus on football. They played incredibly well that night and want to do it again.”
Southgate was asked if Englandwhose ban is a result of the crowd problem at Wembley around the Euro 2020 final, is effectively punished more than Hungary for the smaller attendance expected at Wolverhampton.
“I don’t know if we hit it ourselves, because you could say that behind closed doors is behind closed doors,” he said. “What the FA recognized was that there was an opportunity to invite local football clubs, so they felt they should take that opportunity. I don’t think we should spend our time and energy concentrating on how other people treat it.
“I think some of the safety rules are a little different from country to country. I know this has been a bit of a concern for us; it sounds easy just to introduce schoolchildren but that actually needs a pretty big operation. it’s our job to adjust the football. “
Southgate explained that he expects a test closer to the one Hungary made available in October, when they held England to a 1-1 draw at Wembley, than the failure that occurred at the shutdown a month earlier. He will have to plan for the game, as well as the Tuesday outing against Germany in Munich, without Phil Foden after the Manchester City player tested positive for Covid-19.
It is hoped that Foden will recover for the two games in Wolverhampton, where Hungary are once again waiting after the Italian draw. Sterling has struggled with illness and may not be involved in Budapest as the game comes too early for Fikayo Tomori and Marc Guéhi, who are injured.
New calls Jarrod Bowen and James Justin are both expected to receive their first caps over the next 10 days. “I won’t hesitate to play them,” Southgate said. “They both settled very well. They both came into the squad looking as if they wanted to show what they could do, rather than temporarily dip a toe into the water and see how everything worked. I’ve seen enough of them in training to see that they can fit. “