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Bulgaria v England: Euro 2020 qualifier temporarily halted due to racist behaviour from fans

The referee spoke to England boss Gareth Southgate after the second incident

England’s Euro 2020 qualifying win over Bulgaria in Sofia was halted twice in the first half with fans warned about racist behaviour.

The first pause came in the 28th minute with England leading 2-0.

A stadium announcement then condemned the abuse before stating the match would be abandoned if it continued.

However, the game was stopped again in the 43rd minute before restarting after discussions between the referee and England manager Gareth Southgate.

England went on to win 6-0 to strengthen their place at the top of Group A.

After the game, the Football Association condemned the abuse, saying: “We can confirm that England players were subjected to abhorrent racist chanting while playing in the Euro 2020 qualifier against Bulgaria.

“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.”

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.

The build-up to the game had been dominated by concerns of potential incidents of racism, with England striker Tammy Abraham saying the players would be prepared to walk off the pitch if they were targeted by racist abuse.

Southgate held a meeting with his players over the weekend to underline the Uefa three-step protocol in dealing with racist incidents – but the subject has provoked an angry response from the Bulgarian football authorities.

Bulgaria coach Krasimir Balakov had accused England of having a bigger racism problem than his own country.

What exactly happened?

After making a pass, England defender Tyrone Mings glanced over his shoulder and could be heard calling towards the touchline: “Did you hear that?”

Within minutes the game was stopped.

Striker Harry Kane was in conversation with referee Ivan Bebek on the halfway line while a stadium announcement was made to condemn racist abuse and warn fans that the game could be abandoned if it continued. At the same time, England boss Southgate was talking to a number of his players.

The game resumed but was stopped again just before half-time. Southgate and several England players were in discussion with match officials before the game was restarted for a second time.

A group of Bulgaria supporters wearing black hooded tops – some wearing bandanas covering their faces – started to leave the stadium after the game was halted for a second time. BBC Radio 5 Live reported that some made right-wing and racist gestures while heading towards the exits.

After six minutes of time added at the end of the first half because of the delay, Bulgaria captain Ivelin Popov was seen in a heated debate with a section of home supporters near the tunnel while the rest of the players headed for the dressing rooms for half-time.

Some fans in the Bulgaria section of the stadium appeared to make Nazi salutes

What is Uefa’s protocol for dealing with incidents of racism?

Uefa has a three-step protocol in place for dealing with such incidents in matches.

For the first step, the referee will speak to the stadium announcer and demand the halting of racist behaviour.

If it continues, the referee can take the players off the field into the dressing rooms for a period of time and the stadium announcer will make another address.

If it still continues, the match will be abandoned.

The view from inside the ground

BBC Radio 5 Live senior football reporter Ian Dennis: “It seemed like the second step was about to be taken and players were taken off. The third step would be temporarily and then permanently [taken off].

“I think I heard some monkey chants coming from the section to the right when Raheem Sterling was fouled.

“Bulgaria captain Ivelin Popov has come across to the left of the tunnel to speak to some Bulgaria supporters.”

BBC Sport’s chief football writer Phil McNulty: “The Bulgaria fans have not taken the threat of abandonment well but the warning was clear. This was what the big fear was in the build-up and sadly it has come to pass.

“England are in control of this game but sadly off-the-field events will overshadow the game now.”

Source: bbc.co.uk

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