"There's No Black In The Colours Of Zenit"
14 February 2013
At least three Liverpool players are entering the line of fire tonight, when the Reds take on Zenit St Petersburg in the Europa League in Russia.
Andre Wisdon, Glen Johnson and Raheem Sterling could all be victims of racist abuse, as fear mounts ahead of the game.
In December, Zenit’s largest supporters group released a manifesto, calling for the club never to sign another black player or a player from a “sexual minority.”
In the past, a Zenit fan has handed Roberto Carlos a banana in a racist gesture, and a fake bomb was planted outside the club’s headquarters when Brazilian striker Hulk was signed.
Racist chanting is routine in Zenit’s stadium, and the club has all but given up trying to contain it. According to reports, the slogan "There's no black in the colours of Zenit" can still be seen painted on walls in St Petersburg.
Ahead of tonight’s game, Zenit spokesman Evgeny Gusev warned that despite the club’s best efforts, it cannot promise racist incidents will not take place.
"[Stopping racism] is not just the work of the club but of the legal authorities, the police and politicians," he said. "We work hard but we cannot be insured against individual cases."
Meanwhile, Reds boss Brendan Rodgers insists he and his team will not be cowed by racists in the Zenit crowd.
He refuses to let his game plan, in the form of team selections and strategy, be affected by the archaic attitude of some of the Russian club’s fans.
"I didn't think of leaving anyone out," Rodgers said, referring to the black players in his squad.
"These are young players who have experienced this in their lives before so we are going into a sporting arena and everyone from football, Uefa and referees, will support any player it may affect.
“I didn't think of it too much because they want to play and some are young players progressing.”
With the decision to award Russia the 2018 World Cup already under scrutiny for various reasons, more racist incidents in matches like tonight’s will surely be bad news for the Eastern European nation’s reputation.
And Liverpool may well have extra motivation to make sure Zenit's progress in Europe is halted.