Last night’s game will stand as a particularly significant one in the timeline of racism within football. England put up a crushing performance against floundering Bulgaria, securing a 6-0 Euro qualifying victory in Sofia. This should have been a joyous occasion but instead, the moment was marred by the sound of shameful racist chants from Bulgarian supporters.
The shocking abuse continued throughout the match with threats even made about abandoning the game. Sadly, the warnings did not eliminate the toxic atmosphere created by Bulgarian fans. The game carries significance not simply because of the disgraceful behaviour displayed by the home fans but ultimately the inspiring way that England handled the tense situation.
England were well within their rights to walk off the pitch. They could have chosen not to be subjected to such injustice but instead did something even more powerful. They persevered and stood strong in the face of adversity.
Rather than giving any power to the abusers, they instead made a statement that they would not let racism defeat them. The fact that they persisted and went on to secure a thrashing victory, professed a more profound message.
England Manager, Gareth Southgate, stated that ‘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.’
Bulgaria captain, Ivelin Popov, even addressed fans at half time in an attempt to curtail the abuse. However, the reaction that ensued following the warning over the tannoy, suggested that Bulgarian fans did not see any issue in their actions.
What was even more shocking was Bulgaria coach, Krasimir Balakov, claimed that he did not hear any racist chanting but was quick to point out that British fans whistled during the Bulgarian national anthem.
England soldiered on with a strong first half which saw effortless goals from Marcus Rashford, two from Ross Barkley and Raheem Sterling, who went on to win Man of the Match. Sterling then went on to score his second goal in the second half and it was none other than Harry Kane who scored the sixth.
Tyrone Mings made his England debut, also putting up an impressive first performance. Speaking to ITV he said ‘It was a great occasion, I made my debut, slightly overshadowed by a few disappointing chants. 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.’
There was no denying that Bulgaria simply put up a poor performance yesterday. All efforts were futile as their flimsy attempts to take control allowed England to move the ball from side to side at will. England football fans have taken to Twitter to argue that the monumental loss was payback for the actions of Bulgaria fans.
Racism has noticeably become more prominent within football this year. This game has not only highlighted the severity of this issue but also what can happen when a team unites and perseveres through the chants and the taunts. In the words of Marcus Pickford, the game was ‘not an easy situation to play in and not one which should be happening in 2019’. Despite the jeers, England have come out victorious and have proved that their spirit will not be broken by bigotry.