The Euro qualifiers game between England and Bulgaria was temporarily stopped in the first half following abuse registered from the stand.
The Three Lions’ fears of racist abuse towards their players were realised during their Euro 2020 qualifying match at Bulgaria on Monday night, with the game temporarily stopped twice in the first half by the match referee following abuse from the stands.
After discussing the matter with Three Lions captain Harry Kane, the match referee requested the following announcement be made over the tannoy: “Because of racist behaviour which is interfering with the game, the referee has indicated he may have to suspend the match.
“Please be in no doubt that the game may be suspended and abandoned if racist behaviour continues.”
England were 2-0 up at the time, following goals from Marcus Rashford and Ross Barkley.
Rashford cut inside from the left before firing into the top corner, before Barkley finished off a fine move led by Raheem Sterling. Barkley added a third soon after the match resumed, with Sterling making it four shortly before half-time.
A large group of fans wearing black hoodies and with their faces covered were also pictured showing their middle fingers towards the pitch.
England manager Gareth Southgate is reported to have made another complaint to the match officials shortly before half-time, with abuse towards his players continuing after the initial warning on the tannoy.
With the match stopped for a second time before the interval, large numbers of the above mentioned section of fans were seen leaving the stadium. The match resumed shortly thereafter.
The initial stop in the game was the first step in UEFA’s protocol for such an event, with a temporary suspension the second step. Such a suspension would generally last five to ten minutes, with another appeal made over the tannoy system. The third step would see the match referee abandon the game.
When asked about the possibility of abuse before the match, both Southgate and Sterling gave their support to the UEFA three-step system.
Bulgaria manager Krasimir Balakov caused controversy with his comments before the match, claiming he did not think his country had any more of a problem with racism than England.
“What I can say is that I don’t think we have a problem,” he said.
“In the Bulgarian championship, we have a lot of players of different ethnicities and skin colour. I don’t think we have as big a problem like, for example, England do.”
However, England leads by 4 goals to Nil at halftime