England vs Bulgaria Euro qualifying match suspended twice amid racist chanting

14 October 2019, 20:22

The England squad during the Euro 2020 qualifying match in Sofia
The England squad during the Euro 2020 qualifying match in Sofia. Picture: PA

By Megan White

England’s Euro qualifier against Bulgaria was suspended twice amid racist chanting from the crowd.

The game, in Sofia, was paused for the first time for around five minutes, from the 28th minute, with the stadium announcer saying it could be abandoned if “certain crowd chants continue.”

Some fans appeared to be making Nazi salutes before play was suspended.

He said: "This is an important stadium announcement, because of racist behaviour which is interfering with the game, the referee has indicated that he may have to suspend the match.

"Racism in football stadiums will not be tolerated.

"Please be in no doubt that the game will be suspended and may be abandoned if racist behaviour continues amongst spectators.

Bulgarian fans leave the stadium during the Euro 2020 group A qualifying game
Bulgarian fans leave the stadium during the Euro 2020 group A qualifying game. Picture: PA

"Help everyone enjoy the game and say no to racism. Thank you."

Harry Kane was shown in conversation with referee Ivan Bebek on the halfway line and manager Gareth Southgate was also talking to a number of his players as the announcement was made.

The game was then suspended for a second time around 48 minutes, with a group of 40-50 Bulgarian supporters seen leaving the ground.

During the break, Southgate was seen again speaking to officials.

England fans during the game in Sofia on Monday
England fans during the game in Sofia on Monday. Picture: PA

Bulgaria captain Popov was in a heated debate with a section of home supporters near the tunnel as the rest of the players headed for the dressing rooms at half-time.

As play resumed, England fans began a chant of: "You know what you are, you racist b*****ds."

The match was stopped as step one of UEFA's anti-racism protocol took place.

The next step of the protocol would lead to the game being suspended.

There has been much talk of potential racist abuse ahead of the game, with the Vasil Levski National Stadium's capacity reduced by 5,000 seats following UEFA sanctions for racism in earlier qualifiers against the Czech Republic and Kosovo.

The Football Association released a statement at the final whistle via Twitter.

"We can confirm that @England players were subjected to abhorrent racist chanting while playing in the #EURO2020 qualifier against Bulgaria," it read.

"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."

FA chairman Greg Clarke called on UEFA to hold a full and proper investigation into the racism incidents.

"I would like to see a very stringent review by UEFA because I know they take racism very seriously," he told ITV.

"If they have zero tolerance to racism then one person making monkey chants is the same as 100 people making monkey chants.

"We have to address that at UEFA but, to be perfectly frank, we need to address it in England. We shouldn't take the moral high ground.

Gareth Southgate leaves the pitch at half time
Gareth Southgate leaves the pitch at half time. Picture: PA

"We should join a movement to drive racism out of our game and have zero tolerance for it."

ITV pundit Ian Wright described it as a "great day" in trying to tackle racism.

He said: "It's a terrible day for the Bulgarian people and how they have been represented, it's a great day in respect of trying to tackle racism.

"We can see over in that stand, with those (anti-racism) banners, which mean nothing.

"What we're seeing is a set of fans who do not care and need educating."

Wright continued: "As a black player, we've heard it for many years about walking off.

"But you do need your white players to do that for you, so you can go off together. When that can happen, when you can see how powerful that is, that will do something."

Shadow sports minister Rosena Allin-Khan tweeted: "Absolute solidarity with @OfficialTM_3 @sterling7 @RBarkley8 @MarcusRashford @tammyabraham @trentaa98 @fikayotomori_ There can be no place for racism in football - you have a country behind you tonight.

"We need fans, clubs, press and politicians to join in solidarity!"