England’s Euro 2020 qualifying victory over Bulgaria in Sofia was overshadowed by shameful scenes of racism that saw the game stopped twice and officials threaten to abandon the match.
Gareth Southgate’s side strolled to a 6-0 victory in an atmosphere that was toxic in the first half and eerie in the second, with a large section of the Vasil Levski Stadium already closed after racist incidents here in June.
England debutant Tyrone Mings was an early victim, turning towards the home fans when chants were aimed in his direction and referee Ivan Bebek stopped the game in the 28th minute after Raheem Sterling was a target for further abuse.
After lengthy discussions, and in accordance with Uefa’s protocol for dealing with racism, the crowd were warned of the consequences if there were further problems – and there was a further stoppage just before half-time.
On the pitch, England moved closer to Euro 2020 qualification as they romped to victory with the recalled Marcus Rashford opening the scoring early on with a superb rising drive.
Ross Barkley added a tap-in and a head from Kieran Trippier’s cross before Sterling got on the scoresheet with another simple finish just before half-time.
And Sterling provided an even more emphatic answer to those who directed the shameful chants at England’s players when he strode through for the fifth goal after 68 minutes.
Defender Tyrone Mings says he could hear the racist abuse “as clear as day” but “everybody made the decision” to continue the Euro 2020 qualifier against Bulgaria in Sofia.
Abuse, including Nazi salutes and monkey chanting, were aimed at Mings and his team-mates and the Aston Villa defender was shown on TV to turn towards the linesman and ask: “Did you hear that?”
Bulgaria coach Krasimir Balakov said he did not hear any racist chanting.
Balakov said he would be “truly sorry if it did turn out to be true” but said there had been no such problems before.
“I personally did not hear the chanting,” Balakov said.
“I saw the referee stopped the game but I also have to say the behaviour was also not only on behalf of the Bulgarian fans but also the English fans, who were whistling and shouting during the Bulgarian national anthem.
“During the second half they used words against our fans which I find unacceptable.”
Balakov’s comments have aged poorly, and Raheem Sterling called out the boss on social media after Monday’s match.
“Mmmmh … Not sure about this one chief,” the Man City forward wrote on Twitter while quote tweeting the initial story covering Balakov’s comments.
I don’t see any earbuds there that would have meant he couldn’t hear what almost everyone else did.
The England fans singing “Raheem Sterling – he’s one of our own” says it all for me. I have never understood racism. And I never will.