Its not often you come away from a tough away game with a 6-0 win and feel sad and disillusioned with the game. But for many last night, the sad scenes in the stands in Sofia overshadowed what was a very good England performance and threw the game into disrepute.
There had been much speculation about the behaviour of the Bulgarian fans, after a number of incidents in recent years highlighted the large racist undertone within their fan base, and England captain Harry Kane had spoke of leading his teammates off the field if there was any sniff of racially motivated chanting or jeers.
From the get go England’s black stars were booed every time they touched the ball, attackers Raheem Sterling and Marcus Rashford as well as debutant centre back Tyrone Mings. But it wasn’t until the 28th minute play was put on hold with discussions taking place on the sideline, and a stadium announcement being made over the speakers warning fans the game would be stopped if this behaviour carried on.
However, this did not stop the chants, the boo’s and the abhorrent monkey noises being made, and the game was then stopped again in the 43rd minute, this time with Southgate talking with the referee before the game was again restarted.
Further racist incidents continued into the second half, caught on pitch-side microphones, but play was not stopped for a third time, which would have been crucial as UEFA’s three step racism protocol states if a match is stopped for a third time the match must be abandoned.
Further footage shows fans doing Nazi salutes and one fan holding up a “no respect” jumper. Debate has been rife over the best course of action in a situation such as this, is it best to walk from the pitch refusing to stand for this kind of abuse? Or is it best to play on and not let the racists win? England chose the latter last night, and with Rashford and Sterling both scoring, as well as Ross Barkley who’s grandfather is Nigerian, well and truly silenced the racist scum in the stands.
If this was not bad enough, Bulgaria’s own manager Krasimir Balakov seemingly defended his fans post match, claiming he did not hear any racist chants towards the England players and actually blamed the England fans for unacceptable behaviour. When the man at the top is seemingly just as bad as the racists in the stands, it is concerning for all involved and something UEFA must take a serious look at.
With all of the focus being firmly set on what happened off the pitch, it is important to remember just what the England players achieved in representing their country in such difficult circumstances, standing up to racism and doing our country proud in the process.