England’s game against Bulgaria in Sofia was halted twice after being blighted by racist crowd abuse aimed at the Three Lions players.
The first step of UEFA’s three step anti-racism protocol was enacted during the Euro 2020 qualifying match when the game at the Levski Stadium was paused and an announcement made over speakers that the referee may cancel the game.
Later in the first half, England manager Gareth Southgate complained to Croatian referee Ivan Bebek and the game was halted for a second time.
England Defender Tyrone Mings was seen asking an assistant referee, ‘Did you hear that?’ during the first half and Nazi salutes were seen among a section of the home fans.
The game continued after a brief break. England eventually won the game 6-0.
At half time, ITV pundit and ex-England international 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.”
Bulgaria captain Ivelin 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.
The stadium announcer said when the first chanting was reported: “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. Help everyone enjoy the game and say no to racism. Thank you.”
The Levski Stadium was subject to a partial closure for this match after Bulgaria were sanctioned for racist chanting during qualifiers against Kosovo and the Czech Republic.
After the game, striker Marcus Rashford wrote on Twitter: “Not an easy situation to play in and not one which should be happening in 2019. Proud we rose above it to take three points but this needs stamping out.
Raheem Sterling wrote on Twitter: “Feeling sorry for Bulgaria to be represented by such idiots in their stadium. Anyway.. 6-0 and we go back home, at least we did our job. Safe travel to our fans, u guys did well”.
England players were subjected to “abhorrent racist chanting” during the match, the Football Association said straight afterwards.
“We can confirm that @England players were subjected to abhorrent racist chanting while playing in the #EURO2020 qualifier against Bulgaria,” the FA said in a statement.
“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.”