Anti-racism groups have condemned Nazi salutes and monkey chants during England’s Euro 2020 qualifier against Bulgaria on Monday night.
England manager Gareth Southgate said he was proud of his players after making a “major statement” on and off the pitch by refusing to let racists win.
Monkey chants and Nazi salutes punctuated England’s 6-0 win in Monday’s Euro 2020 qualifier at the Vasil Levski National Stadium, where the Football Association’s worst fears came to fruition on a night of shame in Sofia.
The match became a sideshow and was halted twice as England players received abhorrent abuse, with the first step of UEFA’s protocol implemented in the 28th minute as an announcement was made on the public address system.
There was another pause in play as half-time approached following more racist behaviour, but play resumed after widespread discussion and the departure of a group of individuals in the home end.
Kick It Out, an anti-discrimination group which seeks to eradicate hate from Football said: “We are sickened by the disgusting racist abuse directed at England men’s team tonight by Bulgaria supporters – including TV footage which appeared to show Nazi salutes and monkey noises.
We applaud Gareth Southgate, his staff and players for the actions taken in reporting the abhorrent abuse, and offer our full support to the entire squad, their families and anyone affected by those appalling scenes.”
Southgate said: “We made the fourth official aware as soon as we heard anything happen – and everybody saw the game stopped and the announcement to the crowd.
“We then weren’t happy that things were continuing and we made a further complaint”.
He added the team “made a major statement with the way we played, through such difficult circumstances. I don’t think a game of this magnitude has ever been stopped twice.”
Southgate also commented: “Sadly, my players, because of their experiences in our own country, are hardened to racism. I don’t know what that says about our society but that’s the reality, so that actually saddens me that when I speak to them about it, they are absolutely hardened to it.”
After the game, Bulgaria head coach Krasimir Balakov claimed: “I didn’t actually hear anything but I just talked to the English press downstairs and I told them that if this is proven to be true, then we have to be ashamed and we have to apologise for it. But, once again, first it has to be proven to be true”.
Before the game, he accused England of having a worse racism problem than his own country.