In a perfect world, the events on the pitch would have been the talking points from last night. How England had responded to a really poor performance against the Czech Republic last Friday with a display of free flowing counter attacking football. How they top their qualifying group and are all but set to confirm their place at the finals for Euro 2020 in November. About how well the captain Harry Kane played, with three assists and a goal, Ross Barkley scoring a brace as well as Raheem Sterling carrying on his outstanding England form. How Southgate had rung the changes to try and address the frailties that had been exposed in the game against the Czech Republic. But no.
Instead, we’re here talking about the fact that several England players again have had to play while subjected to vile racist abuse. Tyrone Mings, making his England debut, was the first player targeted. Raheem Sterling and Marcus Rashford were subjected to monkey chants every time they touched the ball. It was vile to see and hear, in a stadium which was under enforced partial closure because of previous racist chants. But it wasn’t just chants last night. We saw swastikas, fascist salutes and hoodies making a mockery of UEFA’s ‘Respect’ campaign. All this after the head of the Bulgarian Football Union had insisted there wouldn’t be any sort of incident, hadn’t been for a long time and to label Bulgarian fans as racist was very offensive. The manager before the game said there wasn’t any problem with racism in Bulgaria before pointing the finger at England and their domestic game. Well, they’re either wilfully ignorant or lying through their teeth.
The on pitch protocols for what to do in the instance of racist chants being heard were executed perfectly by the referee and his team of officials and I commend him for his control and calm in a situation that easily could have spiralled out of control. The England players and coaches also are to be commended for the attitude and professionalism they showed to first notify the officials as per the protocols and to then decide to carry on playing to see the game through to the end in a professional manner.
What I find even more abhorrent is the reaction of some Bulgarian journalists and the Bulgaria manager. In the post match press conference, Krasimir Balakov claimed not to hear any of the monkey chants and said it must be ‘proven’. Well, I’m sorry Mister Balakov, the ITV mics covering the game and the Sky Sports reporters inside the crowd next to where the chants were coming from both clearly picked up what was happening. And they could clearly be heard on the touchline where Greg Clarke and the rest of the FA delegation spent the second half in case something more happened and they needed to be consulted.
Clearly the current UEFA sanctions don’t work and the ball in now in their court. Measly fines and stadium closures are not strong enough deterrents. Bulgarian fans have been found guilty of racist chants, banners and more on multiple occasions now. They should be forced to hold their ‘home’ games in neutral venues away from Bulgaria. If that is how their fans are going to act whenever a team shows up with black players or players from a certain ethnic group then, they shouldn’t be able to go games where their national team is playing. I would also argue for their expulsion from this tournament and possibly the next Nations League as well. They need to be shown that even though they might think it perfectly acceptable and even right to do what they did last night, the rest of Europe and indeed the world does not. And that they will not stand for it.