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United hopeful football – not racism – makes the headlines in Partizan clash

United are equal with points with Partizan in Group L.

Manchester United players have discussed UEFA’s racism protocol ahead of the trip to Partizan Belgrade – but Harry Maguire is hopeful there will be no repeat of the “sickening” abuse endured in Bulgaria.

The world’s most expensive defender was on the field during a night of shame in Sofia, when Nazi salutes and monkey chants overshadowed a 6-0 walkover win for England on October 14.

Maguire and Marcus Rashford’s first trip since then comes on Thursday night as United line up in the Europa League in Serbia, which is a country facing well-documented issues with racism.

UEFA this week hit the country’s federation with a two-match ban on spectators, the second of which is suspended for a 12-month probationary period, after the racist behaviour of supporters in September’s defeat by Portugal in Belgrade.

Furthermore, Partizan will be playing in front of a full house against United after completing a two-match European stadium sanction for racism.

England centre-back Maguire said: “We will trust UEFA to follow their protocol with the three steps.

“Obviously Sofia was a sickening atmosphere, it was something I don’t want to be part of again.

“We’re positive tomorrow night will be a great atmosphere, one we’re all looking forward to playing in.

Stewards amongst Bulgaria fans
Stewards amongst Bulgaria fans in the stands during the UEFA Euro 2020 Qualifying match (Nick Potts/PA)

“If something does go off, then we’ll follow the three-step protocol and I’m sure there will be people on and off the pitch doing their bit to make things better for the future.”

Ahead of United’s second visit to Serbia since the Munich air disaster, which occurred as the Busby Babes returned from a European Cup tie against Red Star Belgrade in 1958, Partizan manager Savo Milosevic urged fans to behave.

The former Aston Villa striker expects Thursday to be a “celebration of football” – something United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer hopes proves correct, even if the club have made sure the players understand UEFA’s three-step racism protocol.

“In the aftermath of what happened in Bulgaria we had a meeting with the boys and, as Harry said, we’ve gone through the protocol,” he said.

“But I believe in people and I’m sure the atmosphere here will be fantastic, we’ll try and keep them quiet by playing good football.

“We trust UEFA and, as Savo said, hopefully it’s a celebration of good football.

“We’ve spoken in general on subjects but of course Harry and Marcus who were in Bulgaria, they were freer to talk about the atmosphere, how it was, what we can expect, what’s the worse cast scenario.”

The FARE (Football Against Racism in Europe) network is reported to be keeping a close eye on the game in Belgrade – but it is not just the Balkans where these problems are arising.

The FA Cup match between Haringey Borough and Yeovil was abandoned at the weekend due to racist abuse, while United identified and banned a supporter over alleged racist abuse during Sunday’s Premier League game against Liverpool.

The supporter was ejected from Old Trafford for what the club called “completely unacceptable” abuse.

Solskjaer said: “I’m happy the club have identified… yeah, what do you want to call him.

“It’s something we feel strongly about and are going to stamp down on as much as we can.”

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