Let me paint a picture for you: it’s a Monday night, you sit down to watch the football and the whole game goes by without anyone being racist. Doesn’t sound too far fetched, does it? But, on Monday night, England took on Bulgaria in Sofia as part of the Euro 2020 qualifiers and what occurred in the proceeding 90 minutes made it feel like we were living in a bizarre parallel universe.
As a Scottish person, I tend to shy away from watching England play football. However, on Monday evening, after a quick stint on Twitter to see the game trending I decided to tune in. It was half time when I put it on, and the pundits were recapping the events from the previous 45 minutes. So, let me break it down.
The racist abuse of the England players had begun even before the game had started. Shortly after the first half got underway, Tyrone Mings could be seen asking the assistant referee if he was hearing the abuse coming from the home fans.
On the 28-minute after – England’s second goal of the match – an announcement was made warning the home fans that any further incidents could result in the match being abandoned down to UEFA’s three-step protocol.
Ross Barkley’s second of the match gave England their third as the match was stopped for the second time, not long before the half time whistle.
During half-time there was some dubiety as to whether the game would be abandoned. There was talk of the England players refusing to play the second half, which would mean they would forfeit the game. But, as captain Harry Kane put it, “If you leave the pitch and stop the game they win, really.” So, instead of conceding to the abusers, England went on to thrash Bulgaria 6-0. They say revenge is a dish best served cold, but perhaps it’s best served with six piping hot strikes from nearly half the team.
The England players were quick to jump on Twitter after the match to thank their fans for supporting them, reiterating that there was no place for racism in football and calling for change. On Tuesday morning, Bulgaria’s Prime Minister called on the president of the Bulgarian Football Union to resign and that afternoon he announced his resignation.
Despite denials of the abuse by the Bulgaria head coach, on Tuesday evening Bulgaria were charged by UEFA. Among the charges were those for racist behaviours (which included chants and Nazi salutes) and disruption of national anthem. England however didn’t come away unscathed, collecting charges for disruption of the national anthem and having an insufficient number of travelling stewards.
It’s 2019; the fact that there are still people in the world who have hatred towards someone for the colour of their skin is unfathomable. There is no place for it in football or society. The ability of the players, especially the victims of the abuse – to not only play on but to achieve such an astounding victory – is admirable.
It is clear more needs to be done to prevent this kind of behaviour, but that is not up to the players; that is up to UEFA and football governing bodies around the globe to figure out how they can tackle this behaviour that goes beyond punishing just the club.