Gareth Southgate condemns 'unacceptable situation' after racist abuse in Bulgaria

Tom Homewood
Assistant Producer

Gareth Southgate insists England's response to the racism their players were subjected to during Monday’s 6-0 win in Bulgaria was right and effective.

The 49-year-old credited his team after they came through an “unacceptable situation” in Bulgaria, with the match in Sofia twice stopped during the first half as a results of derogatory chanting from the crowd.

Speaking to BBC Radio 5 Live after the match, Southgate declared “nobody should have to experience what our players did” after an evening which saw debutant Tyrone Mings ask match officials directly if they could hear the abuse.

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During the first half, UEFA put into action the first two stages of its three-step protocol to combat racist incidents by stopping proceedings on two occasions. The third and final step would have seen the match abandoned.

"It's been an incredible few days really,” said Southgate. “We had to prepare for this eventuality. The most important thing was the players and staff knew what we were going to do and were in agreement.

"Nobody should have to experience what our players did. We followed the protocol. We gave two messages - one that our football did the talking and two, we stopped the game twice. That might not be enough for some people but we are in that impossible situation that we can't give everyone what they want.

"But we gave the players what they wanted and the staff what that they wanted. Remarkably, after what we have been through, our players walked off smiling and that's the most important thing for me.

"I have to give credit because the referee communicated with us all the time. You heard the stadium announcement on the first instance. In the second instance, we could have walked off but the players were very keen to finish the first half and talk it through. Not one player wanted to stop, they were absolutely firm on that."

Referee Ivan Bebek speaks to England manager Gareth Southgate and Tyrone Mings. (Credit: Getty Images)

The match was being played in front of a partially closed Vasil Levski Stadium as part of a punishment for what UEFA deemed racist behaviour by Bulgaria fans in earlier qualifying matches against Kosovo and Czech Republic.

Talking to ITV after the match, Mings was convinced the anti-racism protocol did help the situation.

"It was a great occasion, I made my debut, slightly overshadowed by a few disappointing chants,” said the Aston Villa defender. “It was quite clear to hear on the pitch but I think we showed a great response and showed a great togetherness and hopefully let football do the talking.

"Yes absolutely. I think it (stopping the game) was effective. There was an announcement so whatever the protocol was and the correct steps taken definitely helped. We made the decision at half time to come out and I felt it was the right decision.

"Everybody was consulted - us, management, staff players, we all made a decision that we were happy to go out."

Marcus Rashford took to Twitter to say how proud he was of England to play on in a difficult situation.

After learning that Bulgaria captain Ivelin Popov was seen in heated discussion with home supporters during the half-time interval, Rashford was quick to praise his courage.

The Football Association confirmed England players had been subjected to racist chanting during the game in a statement they released at the final whistle via Twitter.

After the match FA chairman Greg Clarke said he could hear what he thought were monkey chants around the stadium.

"I was up in the stands with some of the FA staff and we were watching the game and heard a sound which sounded like monkey chanting, we can't be sure.

"I came down and heard some more at the side of the pitch and saw some activity by a group of people dressed in black by a corner flag and it was appalling.

"I checked the team was OK and that Gareth was OK and the second half went ahead on that basis.

"We were told by officials that 50 people - the people in the corner - were thrown out half time. I asked why the other issues were not dealt with and they said they were isolated incidents not mass incidents and the protocol deals with mass incidents."

"I would like to see a very stringent review by Uefa. I know they take racism very seriously. One person making monkey chanting is same as 100. Zero tolerance is zero tolerance."

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