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15 Oct, 2019 10:12

'Disgraceful behavior': Bulgaria vs England UEFA Euro 2020 qualifier interrupted by repeated racist chants by fans

'Disgraceful behavior': Bulgaria vs England UEFA Euro 2020 qualifier interrupted by repeated racist chants by fans

England's fixture against Bulgaria in Sofia was blighted by several instances of racist behavior from home fans, including Nazi salutes and monkey chants, which prompted the referee to stop the game on two occasions.

The game, which England would ultimately win 6-0, was first halted just prior to the half-hour mark with England two goals to the good which prompted a stadium announcement which told fans that the game was in danger of being abandoned should the chanting continue.

However, chants aimed at England players including Raheem Sterling and Marcus Rashford continued. The referee stopped the game once again in the 43rd minute but was restarted after the official consulted with England coach Gareth Southgate.

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The game would reach its conclusion but not without further instances of racist chanting from the crowd inside the Vasil Levski Stadium, which was only partially open after Bulgaria were sanctioned for a similar issue following their qualifiers against Kosovo and Czech Republic in June.

It was reported on Tuesday morning that the Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov called called for the resignation of the president of the Bulgarian Football Union in the wake of the incident.

Bulgaria captain Ivelin Popov took issue with the actions of the home support and was seen vigorosly debating sections of fans near the tunnel after the half-time whistle was blown.

UEFA's three-step protocol to deal with racist behavior from supporters dictates that the first warning to a crowd is a message from the stadium announcer. After that, the referee has the power to take players from the field for a further announcement to be made threatening cancellation of the game. The third step is to actually call off the fixture. 

The referee advanced the protocol to the first step but, per reports, the players voiced their opinions on the pitch that they would like to continue the game which ruled out the referee taking the players from the field of play. 

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"I explained to the players that if anything else did happen in the second half we would be coming off," Southgate said following the game.

"We all saw the second half was calmer and that allowed our players to do their talking with the football."

The actions in Bulgaria appear to be the latest symptom of a wave of racist behavior which has affected football in several European countries.

England's Sterling was also on the receiving end of similar chanting in Montenegro, who were punished with a fine and forced to play two games behind closed doors.

However, anti-racism group Kick It Out have called for harsher sanctions to be imposed on football associations who fail to control their supporters.

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"We are sickened by the disgusting racist abuse directed at England men's team by Bulgaria supporters - including TV footage which appeared to show Nazi salutes and monkey noises," they said.

"It's now time for Uefa to step up and show some leadership. For far too long, they have consistently failed to take effective action. The fact Bulgaria are already hosting this game with a partial stadium closure for racist abuse shows that Uefa's sanctions are not fit for purpose.

"There can be no more pitiful fines or short stadium bans. If Uefa cares at all about tackling discrimination - and if the Equal Game campaign means anything - then points deductions and tournament expulsion must follow."

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