England players were subjected to disgusting racial abuse during the 6-0 win over Bulgaria in Sofia on Monday night, with the first-half stopped twice as abandonment appeared a real possibility.
In the build-up to the meeting, Three Lions striker Tammy Abraham was among the Three Lions players to caution their hosts that racist chanting from the crowd could see the visitors abandon the match. However, the supporters at Stadion Vasil Levski refused to heed the forward’s warning as they watched their side get torn apart by the World Cup semi-finalists.
UEFA recently began a new protocol for dealing with racist behaviour at games, which involves a player first informing his captain of the abuse, with the skipper then relaying the information to the officials. The next step sees the referee lead the players off of the pitch as a caution is announced via a public announcer to those in the stadium. If the abuse does not cease, a decision may be taken by the officials to abandon the fixture.
Marcus Rashford and Raheem Sterling netted either side of a brace from Ross Barkley to put England out of sight by half-time, Southgate’s recruits building an unassailable 4-0 lead by the break.
The Manchester United striker smashed a ferocious effort into the roof of the net to opening the scoring in Bulgaria, before his Chelsea counterpart rounded off a fine move to double the advantage.
However, throughout the night, abuse from the stands had been growing, with Sterling, Rashford and debutant Tyrone Mings the main targets. Midway through the first period, the referee halted play as a stadium announcer informed supporters that the game could be suspended if their chanting continued.
Soon after, Barkley made it three for England, yet the midfielder’s goal only worsened the whistling and harassment from the stands, resulting in another stoppage that ended with a section of the crowd – seemingly all young men, dressed in black – leaving the venue.
Due to the repeated interruptions, five minutes of time were added onto the opening half, with Sterling tucking away a delightful pass from Harry Kane to make it 4-0.
After the exit of the hooligans, the second half passed without further stoppages. However, some chanting apparently aimed at Sterling remained audible after the break.
England’s victory – taken up to 6-0 at the final whistle by further goals from Sterling and Kane – was overshadowed by the depressing scenes.
Here are some of the most poignant tweets on the incidents as they unfolded:
Bulgarian captain, Ivelin Popov, talking to supporters at the break, arguing with them, clearly realising that this game is heading for an abandonment if the home fans continue their monkey chants.
— Henry Winter (@henrywinter) October 14, 2019
That clip of Mings saying ‘Do you hear that?’ to the linesman is heartbreaking. It’s the lad’s full debut for his country and this will be his abiding memory of it. Disgusting. #BULENG
— Matt Dannatt (@mattdannatt) October 14, 2019
This is now more than a football match. It’s a test of football’s resolve to start dealing properly with racism.
— Michael Calvin (@CalvinBook) October 14, 2019
Ian Wright spot on. Today is landmark because, if this game gets called off, it will prove that players won’t have to play through the racist abuse going forward. Retrospective action doesn’t work. Players should not have to suffer it. #BULENG
— Jack Mendel ️ (@Mendelpol) October 14, 2019
England have been absolutely exemplary so far across the board in their response to this abuse.
Gareth Southgate’s calmness, the communication between each other & their response through action on the pitch.
The ‘sanctions’ on the other hand clearly not up to it.#BULENG
— Ben Haines (@benhainess) October 14, 2019
Total credit to the England players for how they’ve carried themselves, and if that is footage of Popov speaking to his fans and saying stop it, then credit to him too #BULENG
— Max Rushden (@maxrushden) October 14, 2019
Though the brilliance of the football will not silence the hate, I am glad the bigots are not getting the result on the field that they want. #BULENG
— Musa Okwonga (@Okwonga) October 14, 2019
#eng fans: “Who put the ball in the racists’ net? Raheem f***ing Sterling.”
— James Olley (@JamesOlley) October 14, 2019
To the Bulgarian racists at tonight’s game, your getting schooled by an England team made up of what makes this country great, a diverse and energetic young team made up of black, white and mixed race players! gbeng ✊✊✊
— Elliott Bennett (@Ebenno88) October 14, 2019
Disgusting that those racist thugs just got to stream out of the stadium scot-free, covering their faces like the cowards that they are. Should have been straight into the open arms of the authorities waiting outside. #BULENG
— Matt Dannatt (@mattdannatt) October 14, 2019
Upon full-time, the FA released a response to the abuse in a statement via a spokesperson, which reads: “The FA can confirm that England players were subjected to abhorrent racist chanting while playing in the EURO 2020 qualifier against Bulgaria.
“This is unacceptable at any level of the game and our immediate focus is supporting the players and staff involved. As we are sadly aware, this is not the first time our players have been subjected to this level of abuse and there is no place for this kind of behaviour in society, let alone in football. We will be asking UEFA to investigate as a matter of urgency.”
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