England stand firm in face of sickening racism as they thrash Bulgaria on night of shame in Sofia

Jason Burt
The Telegraph
The referee twice halted the game after England players were racially abused - Action Images via Reuters
The referee twice halted the game after England players were racially abused - Action Images via Reuters

England left Bulgaria with three points, six goals and surely one line finally drawn in the sand. This Euro 2020 qualifier has to be a watershed moment, a seminal moment when this “abhorrent racist abuse” as the Football Association immediately and unequivocally called it in their statement demanding a Uefa investigation has to stop.

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England acted with utter dignity and professionalism throughout, with the game stopped twice in the first-half because of the abuse, and sent out a message to the world beyond the emphatic score-line of England 6 Racists 0.

They could have walked off unilaterally – and no-one would surely have disagreed if they did - but instead they steadfastly followed the Uefa protocols, they reported what they heard and they made their point with their football and their impeccable behaviour. Croatian referee Ivan Bebek did give England the option of leaving the pitch for 10 minutes after the second incident on 43 minutes but, because it was so close to half-time, Gareth Southgate said he would wait until then and speak to his players in the dressing room. After what had happened in Montenegro – when Sterling and Danny Rose were abused - they must have been sorely tempted to take their own action.

“I know whatever we do might be perceived as not being enough but we have made a major statement,” Southgate rightly said. No-one could dispute that and the England manager was as dignified as ever even if, at times, he looked like he had had enough.

But the players wanted to continue. They wanted to finish it, win the game and not let the racists triumph and they did that emphatically. There were six goals. There could have been 10. In the back of their minds there will have been a desire to bounce back from the disappointing defeat against the Czech Republic and their powers of concentration were remarkable.

Now the pressure has to be relentless on the authorities to act and we are not talking about paltry fines or points deductions. It was utterly appalling and the only measure is to throw Bulgaria, with their ridiculous denials, out of the competition. This is, was and always will be completely unacceptable. There has to be no compromise.

Tyrone Mings, on his England debut, was the first to report the racism – what a tainted evening of mixed emotions for the indomitable defender who was outstanding - but it was also directed at Raheem Sterling (again) and Marcus Rashford with monkey chants while some Bulgarian fans were clearly shown doing Nazi salutes with members of the FA’s backroom staff visibly upset.

The Bulgarians – suffering a partial stadium closure because of a previous racist incident – were warned before kick off with a tannoy message and then with two more announcements during the first-half with matters even more confused by Bulgarian fans apparently fighting among themselves and a group of 50 black-shirted fans from Plovdiv – the so-called ‘lauta army’ – forced to leave. At half-time the Bulgarian captain Ivelin Popov came out to plead with the fans to behave themselves.

The racists were embarrassed with this crushing result with the Bulgarian coach Krasmir Balakov asked questions about why his team played like football “dwarves” as his nation suffered their biggest ever defeat in a qualifier with some devastating play by England. With Kosovo beating Montenegro England have to wait a little longer to qualify for Euro 2020 but France’s draw with Russia in their group means if they do win their final three matches they will definitely be seeded next summer.

It is hard to write about the actual football but because the England players said they wanted to be recognised for this and the way they performed it does need to be documented. Bulgaria were taken apart. Rashford, one of five changes from Prague, opened the scoring as he collected the ball from Ross Barkley, another. Rashford feinted to cross, cut back inside and struck a powerful right-foot cross-shot that caught out goalkeeper Plamen Iliev.

The second goal was even more impressive. There was a patient build-up, wonderfully constructed with Sterling and Kane quickening the pace with an exchange of passes that ended with Sterling firing in a cross that Ross Barkley turned into the net at the far post.

<span>A message to Uefa</span> <span>Credit: Action Images via Reuters </span>
A message to Uefa Credit: Action Images via Reuters

England’s professionalism shone. After the first racist stoppage they quickly scored again with Kane delivering an in-swinging cross which Barkley, ghosting in, met and stooped to head in. That the fourth goal came soon after the second stoppage showed England’s unshakeable determination to ram their message home with Kane squaring across the six-yard area for a simple tap-in for Sterling.

If there had been another incident in the second-half Southgate said the players would have come off. There were reports of further chants but not verified by the England players who completely dominated and scored again with that awesome combination of Kane and Sterling leading to the latter sweeping the ball in as he ran through.

Kane struck a post, as did Rashford with the last kick of the game but before that the England captain did finally score with a crisp left-foot finish. It was his 28th goal in 43 games and he has struck in all the qualifiers so far.

But it was not a game for records, though, except that hopefully it will be remembered not especially for the result and performance but – far more importantly – about what it means for football and how it has to act following this. It has to be that moment. “We’ve had to go through an incredible amount,” Southgate said. He and the players have done their bit, they have fulfilled their duties and done the sport a favour. Now the world of football owes them the appropriate response.

10:50PM

That'll do it from me

England won the match, many people are hoping that something more important may have been gained: the statement that we won't put up with racism and that we will stop football matches. Whether there was enough evidence of racism after the 'second warning' to stop this match itself is a matter of opinion, I guess. All in all, a thoroughly grim night but maybe, just maybe, something will come of it. Kudos to Gareth Southgate and his team, who handled themselves with grace. Goodnight from me and thanks for following with us.

10:29PM

The legend of Gareth 

grew a bit more tonight, many will feel. What a superb bloke he is.

10:17PM

Clarke

10:15PM

Marcus Rashford

10:13PM

Here's my take fwiw

10:10PM

But what is the protocol?

Raheem Sterling was abused in the second half as well, which would have been "third offence". So why wasn't the match called off?

10:04PM

Gareth Southgate

"The officials were onto everything very quickly. We reported everything very quickly when we heard things. We know it is an unacceptable situation. We have made two statements : one by winning the game and another by raising awareness of the situation."

Gareth suggests that this might be a line in the sand.

"The game was stopped twice. I know for some people that won’t be enough, but as a group we were on board with the process.”

10:02PM

Tyrone Mings

"I made my debut, slightly over shadowed by a few chants. We couldn't do much more than what we had done on the pitch."

Reporter: could you hear a difference after the protocol was enacted?

"Yes. Whatever was enacted, whatever steps were taken it worked. Everybody was consulted at half time and we were all happy to go out and play the game."

9:54PM

FA Chairman Greg Clarke

"We were up in stands and heard the sounds that sounded like monkey shouting, you can't be quite sure. I came down and heard more at the side of the pitch. There was a group in black behind one of the corner flags, who were being appalling.

"We talked to Gareth at half time, asked if he was okay, the team was okay."

ITV reporter asked why they didn't walk off, or why the game wasn't stopped, when there was further noises.

"The protocol is for widespread racism. We were told at half time that 50 or so were being ejected from the ground. There were incidents in the second half but isolated. And I think – and this is only my opinion – there was less racism and chanting in the second half.

"We have a multiracial backroom staff and some of them were visibly upset."

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

"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.

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

 

9:51PM

Ian Wright

"Fantastic moment, a seminal moment... what’s good about it is that this is a generation of players and people now - not just black players - who won’t tolerate this any more. My generation was a generation to turn the other cheek, Martin Luther King. This is the by-any-means-necessary generation; the Malcolm X generation. They don’t need to take it any more. I feel really good watching this. I played so many games like this where people said, ‘Just beat them on the pitch.’ It doesn’t do anything. Today, they’ve won."

9:45PM

Gareth Southgate

as ever, conducted himself with good sense and good grace. Sure there will be some reaction from him any moment now.

9:39PM

Full time: Bulgaria 0 England 6

What a wretched affair. In footballing terms, England could not have done more, they absolutely mullered a desperately poor Bulgarian side. But of course the story is that the match came within a whisker of being abandoned.

9:38PM

90+mins: Bulgaria 0 England 6     

Wilson has hit the post! Ah, son. Unlucky. Kane again sets it up with a great pass, Wilson controls and stabs it... onto the woodwork.

9:38PM

90+mins: Bulgaria 0 England 6    

Keeper's had a good game, apart from the first goal. Decent save here to deny Sancho. There's just a couple of minutes added to come but I can't think there is a single person in the stadium who, for various reasons, wouldn't mind hearing the final whistle.

9:31PM

GOAL! Bulgaria 0 England 6 (Kane 85)

There is its! Bulgaria have absolutely gone. They dither on the ball, Kane snaffles it, drives forward past a couple of weak challenges and fires it home. Finally!

9:29PM

82 mins: Bulgaria 0 England 5      

Harry! Henderson runs with it, looks up, and plays it to Kane. Touch, looks up, hits it... but hits the post! Not his day.

9:26PM

80 mins: Bulgaria 0 England 5     

England having most and indeed almost all of the ball. Tempo has dropped a little, as you would expect, but England still looking for goals.

9:24PM

77  mins: Bulgaria 0 England 5    

England continue to totally dominate, Trippier gamboling down that right side like a spring lamb. God knows who is playing left back for Bulgaria or where he's gone. But KT cannot find the right cross.

Cristaldo Farias is substituted for Malinov and Marcus Rashford, who has done very well indeed, comes off for Calum Wilson.

9:22PM

Thank God, a politician

9:20PM

Walk?

9:18PM

70 mins: Bulgaria 0 England 5   

Isa off, Ivanov on.

For England: Sancho comes on. Barkley off. Sterling off. Mount on.

"Raheem Sterling, he's one of our own," sing the England fans. 

9:15PM

GOAL! Bulgaria 0 England 5 (Sterling 69)

Kane with yet another wonderfully timed pass, he's creating chance after chance tonight, and this time it is for Raheem Sterling, perfectly into Raheem's stride as he surges through the centre, and a very nice finish as well. 

9:13PM

65 mins: Bulgaria 0 England 4         

Rashford with more excellent forward play. Keeper has had a good second half, England could easily have had a couple more.

9:12PM

Ian Wright earlier

"We have heard it for many years about walking off and it is something you do not want to do. You need your white players to do it together. When you see it happening, it is powerful." 

9:11PM

63 mins: Bulgaria 0 England 4        

Kane has the ball, turns this way and that, finds the opening and fires. Another good stop. Might not be Harry's night in front of goal...

9:08PM

61 mins: Bulgaria 0 England 4       

Clive T:  "ITV effects microphones have picked up more instances of abuse. Uefa officials are in discussion on the touchline."

This would be three strikes and out if they stop it again...

9:07PM

60 mins: Bulgaria 0 England 4      

Clive indeed playing a blinder.

9:05PM

59 mins: Bulgaria 0 England 4     

Isa Mustafa and Harry Maguire tangle. Rise above it, Harold.

9:03PM

57 mins: Bulgaria 0 England 4    

Sterling has time and space in the area - Bulgaria really need to get closer to him - and hits a hard low shot that the keeper does well to stop with his legs.

9:02PM

54 mins: Bulgaria 0 England 4   

Sterling down the right, Trippier overlapping and he crosses. Kane is winding up to lash the volley but STerling nicks it off him! Sterling, laughing, apologises.

9:00PM

Local difficulties

8:57PM

50 mins: Bulgaria 0 England 4  

Kane might not be on the scoresheet yet but his passing and assisting has been exemplary, again. He receives the ball from Sterling, lays it perfectly for Rashford, who shoots. Rebounds but Sterling cannot get the fifth.

8:54PM

47 mins: Bulgaria 0 England 4 

Kane! With a fierce shot from distance, parried.

8:53PM

46 mins: Bulgaria 0 England 4

Bulgaria have a freekick down the right.

Sarmov substituted for Kraev.

8:51PM

So the players are out for the second half

And the game is, as it were, on its final warning. 

8:48PM

Talking of ITV

they have just shown blokes in the crowd doing Nazi salutes, some others clearly making monkey noises, and one man holding up a 'no respect' shirt.

A group of maybe 50, who looked like what you might call the hardcore, left the stadium. However, there were still noises etc after that.

Ian Wright: "You can feel physically sick, but you have to continue playing. What we are seeing now is you don't have to. It is a terrible day for Bulgarian people but a great day for tackling racism. We are seeing a set of fans who don't care and need educating." 

8:45PM

Tyrone Mings

alerted the assistant referee to some abuse he got down the touchline. ITV have a brilliant bit of footage from a touchline camera that shows the England player saying: "You hear that?" to the official. 

Not how he and his family dreamed of his England debut I am sure.

8:43PM

The Fan Experience

<span>Crowd at Bulgaria vs England</span> <span>Credit: PA </span>
Crowd at Bulgaria vs England Credit: PA
<span>Crowd at Bulgaria vs England</span> <span>Credit: PA </span>
Crowd at Bulgaria vs England Credit: PA
<span>Crowd at Bulgaria vs England</span> <span>Credit: Getty </span>
Crowd at Bulgaria vs England Credit: Getty

8:38PM

Half time: Bulgaria 0 England 4

That's the half. Southgate and his players handled the two stoppages calmly and graciously and, in terms of the actual football, have ripped Bulgaria apart every time they've wanted to.

<span>Marcus Rashford scores</span> <span>Credit: Action Images via Reuters/Carl Recine </span>
Marcus Rashford scores Credit: Action Images via Reuters/Carl Recine

8:36PM

GOAL! Bulgaria 0 England 4 (Sterling 45+)

Gooorn Raheem! Get in there. Kane in the inside right channel, another lovely pass from him, and there is Raheem Sterling to tuck the ball into the net. Another excellent team goal, England giving Bulgaria a proper hiding here, and while I can normally take or leave England non-tournament games, I am all for Southgate's team tonight. Hope it's ten-nil.

8:34PM

45+mins: Bulgaria 0 England 3 

Don't quite know why that lot have left, surely they're having exactly the experience they wanted? Anyway. England are all of the Bulgarian side....

8:32PM

44 mins: Bulgaria 0 England 3

The game is back underway. There will be six minutes of added time.

8:31PM

England's away fans in the unfamiliar 

position of having the moral high ground, and they are taking full advantage as they jeer and cheer the departing Bulgarian hoody types.

8:30PM

Bulgaria's oi boys are trudging out

<span>Bulgaria fans leaving</span> <span>Credit: ITV </span>
Bulgaria fans leaving Credit: ITV

8:28PM

Referee comes over to the touchline again

The game is stopped again. This is phase two of the racist protocol.

Bulgaria coach having his say. Seems like a real classy guy, that Balakov.

<span>Bulgaria coach talks to Henderson</span> <span>Credit: ITV </span>
Bulgaria coach talks to Henderson Credit: ITV

8:27PM

41 mins: Bulgaria 0 England 2    

Chants as Mings gets the ball. Southgate has spoken again to the officials.

8:25PM

39 mins: Bulgaria 0 England 2   

The booing and whistling intensifies as Marcus Rashford receives the ball, controls it in the area and shoots over.

8:22PM

35 mins: Bulgaria 0 England 2  

Sterling is shoved in the back by Hadzhiev. Decent shout for a penalty that. Ref gives nothing. Crowd boos.

Confirmed that, as we all suspected, the England players did indeed report racist abuse earlier in the match.

8:21PM

GOAL! Bulgaria 0 England 3 (Barkley 32)

It's three! It's Barkley again!

8:15PM

29 mins: Bulgaria 0 England 2 

The cameras find a group of fans, dressed all in black. There was an announcement on the tannoy, which was booed.

The match has restarted. That was the first step of the agreed protocol.

8:13PM

27 mins: Bulgaria 0 England 2

The referee has brought the match to a halt. They are saying on the TV that it is because of racist abuse. Which, you know, sounds pretty likely.

<span>Match is halted</span> <span>Credit: ITV </span>
Match is halted Credit: ITV

8:12PM

24 mins: Bulgaria 0 England 2       

That really is the sort of goal we have dreamed of England scoring for a generation: patience, intelligence, composure, movement.

8:07PM

GOAL! Bulgaria 0 England 2 (Barkley 20)

The culmination of an excellent team move as Sterling eventually bursts into the box, getting the ball from Kane around the corner. Raheem surges forward and hits a hard low ball across the goal (might have been a shot but never mind that) and there is Ross Barkley to tap it from a yard. Close to offside I would imagine but no VAR tonight and that's the second goal for the visitors.

8:05PM

19 mins: Bulgaria 0 England 1       

Barkley, Rashford and Winks playing it around nicely. England look composed on the ball. Bulgaria still firml camped in their line of five and line of four.

8:03PM

16 mins: Bulgaria 0 England 1      

Popov again down the right, and the cross comes in. Trippier has to head behind for a corner. Not sure where Chilwell was.

7:59PM

13 mins: Bulgaria 0 England 1     

Bulgarian fans making plenty of noise. "It seems reasonably good natured," says Clive. Who knows, Clive? Who knows.

7:56PM

11 mins: Bulgaria 0 England 1    

Mr Popov making a nuisance of himself down the right as he keeps the pressure on the England defence.

7:56PM

10 mins: Bulgaria 0 England 1   

Some work for Pickford here as he dives full length to stop a low shot.

7:55PM

8 mins: Bulgaria 0 England 1  

Great hit but Iliev the keeper has failed in his duties there. Spaghetti wrists.

<span>England's Harry Maguire, left, with a pass</span> <span>Credit: AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda </span>
England's Harry Maguire, left, with a pass Credit: AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda

7:53PM

GOAL! Bulgaria 0 England 1 (Rashford 7)

LASH! Rashford receives the ball from Barkley down the left, he moves outside but then comes back inside, turns inside and lets rip with a ferocious shot. It smashes high into the net! What a hit.

7:49PM

3 mins: Bulgaria 0 England 0 

England spreading the play nicely, Sterling has chalk on his boots down the right. Wild tackle from Henderson on Hadzhiev earns Jordan H a booking that will keep him out of the next match.

7:46PM

1 mins: Bulgaria 0 England 0

England win the ball quickly, and Winks at the back of the midfield looks to distribute.

Back five for the Bulgarians, Samov the man in eight drops back into the back line. Then four across the midfield and one up.

7:45PM

England are in red

Nine different clubs for the England XI.

Bulgaria will kick off.

<span>In the spotlight: debutant Tyrone Mings gets a feel of the pitch in Sofia pre-match</span> <span>Credit: Action Images via Reuters/Carl Recine </span>
In the spotlight: debutant Tyrone Mings gets a feel of the pitch in Sofia pre-match Credit: Action Images via Reuters/Carl Recine

7:41PM

Anthem time

England first and here now are our hosts.

Some whistling from both sides' fans during the anthems. Ah, football.

<span>Credit: ITV </span>
Credit: ITV

7:38PM

Nearly ready

7:37PM

England have brought 4,000

fans. The locals haven't really come out in force.

7:36PM

But (yet) another defensive line-up

means that there's no reason to be overconfident at the back.

7:35PM

England must fancy

their chances here. Having put four past this mob last time.

6:49PM

Balakov on racism

And asked whether or not he felt Bulgarian football had a problem with racism, Balakov said: “What I can say is that I don’t think we have a problem in the Bulgarian championship. We have a lot of players of different ethnicities and skin colour. I don’t think we have as a big a problem like, for example, England do.

“In the Bulgarian championship, we have not had such problems while there have been incidents in all levels of English football involving racism. I consider that something normal because it is a big country with a very diverse population. But we don’t have this problem in Bulgaria - I can assure you of that.”

Bulgaria does not have racism problem but English football does, says head coach Krassimir Balakov on eve of qualifier

Also widely quoted as saying: "I would like to focus on football because at the end of the day we are all civilised Europeans and we are all working for this sport. That is all that matters."

6:46PM

Bulgarian woes

Krasimir Balakov is the manager: he was part of that excellent 1994 team that got to the World Cup semis. But it has not been a happy start. He has been in charge for five matches, and has lost four of them. Bulgaria lost three qualifiers, including an 0-4 pumping from England, lost a friendly to Ireland, and managed an 0-0 away in Montenegro in their last fixture. Not great.

6:41PM

Teams in full

Bulgaria: Iliev, Pashov, Terziev, Hadzhiev, Zanev, Despodov,  Ivelin Popov, Sarmov, Kostadinov, Wanderson, Isa. Subs:  Galin Ivanov, Marcelinho, Malinov, Goranov, Nedyalkov, Mihailov,  Dimitrov, Hristo Ivanov, Karagaren, Lozev, Kraev, Slavchev.

England: Pickford, Trippier, Mings, Maguire, Chilwell,  Jordan Henderson, Winks, Rashford, Barkley, Sterling, Kane. Subs: Wilson, Rice, Dean Henderson, Tomori, Abraham, Mount,  Gomez, Pope, Sancho, Alexander-Arnold, Keane.

Referee: Ivan Bebek (Croatia) 

6:36PM

Harrys

<span>Brave Sir Harrys: Maguire and Kane inspect the pitch in Sofia</span> <span>Credit: Catherine Ivill/Getty Images </span>
Brave Sir Harrys: Maguire and Kane inspect the pitch in Sofia Credit: Catherine Ivill/Getty Images

6:35PM

England make five changes

England: Pickford, Trippier, Chilwell, Winks, Mings,  Maguire, Sterling, Henderson, Kane, Barkley, Rashford. 

Aston Villa defender Tyrone Mings will make his debut. He'll partner Harry Maguire in central defence as Michael Keane makes way. Danny Rose is suspended, which means a chance for Ben Chilwell.

Harry Winks, Ross Barkley and Marcus Rashford are recalled in place of Declan Rice, Mason Mount and Jadon Sancho.

6:32PM

England team to play Bulgaria

6:29PM

Good evening

England are in Bulgaria, with the men on the pitch in with a chance of rubber-stamping Euro 2020 qualification tonight. Gareth Southgate's side can book their place with a win and a little help from elsewhere: specifically, if Kosovo fail to get three points against Montenegro. It's going to be a formality sooner or later but Southgate will be extremely keen to get back on track after a defeat to the Czech Republic last time out. England so rarely lose a qualifying match that it was at once both a bit of a shocker and no big deal, but the fact remains that England are not a defensively viable proposition and will, one would imagine, continue to struggle against the genuine top sides until they can defend properly.

The good people on our podcast discuss whether everyone is overreacting or not.

And there is an opportunity to for Tyrone Mings to make a mark at international level.

Plenty to enjoy about the England side at the other end of the pitch, of course, with Harry Kane, Raheem Sterling and Jadon Sancho as good a front three as we could ask for. Kane continues to bang them in despite being a little short of his best - and Sam Wallace has the lowdown on that.

And, as ever with England abroad, there is the off-field action to keep an eye on. One England fan has died in Sofia today.

Kick off is at 7.45pm tonight and we will have the confirmed team news any minute now.

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