‘Football family must wage war on racists’

Disgraceful: England defender Tobias Mings (left) faces racist Bulgaria fans. © Getty

Should England have walked off the field? Despite high-profile resignations and UEFA charges over the Bulgarian fans’ racism, some say things will not change until teams refuse to play on.

“England made a powerful statement in Sofia as they delivered the most eloquent response in disgraceful, dispiriting circumstances of racism,” wrote Phil McNulty, the BBC’s chief football writer.

England put on a virtuoso display in their Euro 2020 qualifier on Monday, beating their Bulgarian hosts 6-0 in a game marred by the home fans’ racism.

Play was halted twice in response to the behaviour of hooded Bulgaria fans, who performed Nazi salutes and shouted monkey chants at black players including defender Tyrone Mings, who was making his England debut.

In the run-up to the match, new England recruit Tammy Abraham had suggested that England would walk off the pitch if they faced racist abuse from fans.

“If it happens to one of us, it happens to all of us,” said the 22-year-old rising star last week. “We don’t stand for it and we want the world to see that.”

But, after a half-time discussion, the England players decided to play on, responding to the night’s difficulties with two further second-half goals.

“Who put a ball in the racists’ net? Raheem Stirling,” chanted the English fans.

Before the game, manager Gareth Southgate agreed to abide by UEFA’s three-step protocol to deal with crowd racism.

First, there are tannoy announcements in the stadium, then the match may be stopped for five to 10 minutes. If that fails, the referee may stop the game.

Racist incidents at football matches have soared by 43% since the 2017-2018 season. It is the seventh year running that reported incidents have climbed, as racism returns to levels not seen in the sport since the 1970s and 1980s.

In the wake of Monday’s events, Bulgaria’s chief of football, Borislav Mahiaylov, resigned from his post under pressure from the country’s prime minister.

The Bulgarian football union was charged by UEFA over the behaviour of its fans. Aleksander Ceferin, UEFA president, said last night that the “football family” must “wage war on racists”.

But these measures aren’t enough for Henry Winter, a renowned sports writer, who says that England would have delivered “an even bigger message” had they walked off as soon as the racist chanting began.

“It would [have made] an arresting image, a message reverberating around the world, front-page splashes, representatives of the oldest footballing nation in the world calling time on the recidivists,” he wrote in The Times.

Should England have walked off the pitch?

End of the line

No, says former England goalkeeper David James, who has himself faced plenty of racist abuse. The best approach is to play on. “Providing there is no physical danger to players, the best way they can answer abuse is by playing the best they can, winning the game, walking off the pitch at the end of 90 minutes and putting in a complaint.”

Yes, says Henry Winter. “Listening to Tammy Abraham talking so lucidly [last week], it was very clear that the players had had enough, that they did not trust match officials to react strongly and swiftly enough, that they believe the authorities do not confront the bigots with the required vigour. Enough is enough.”

You Decide

  1. Should England players stop the match if they see racism?
  2. Why is racism in football on the rise?


  1. Research five facts about Tyrone Mings, England’s new defender.
  2. Write a one-page news report about the events since Monday. Include quotes from players, coaches and officials.

Some People Say...

“If you want to know if racism is a problem in your country, you might not want to ask white people.”

Tim Wise, US anti-racism campaigner

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
After England beat Bulgaria 6-0 in Monday’s Euro qualifier, the football associations of both countries have faced disciplinary measures from UEFA, the European governing body. Bulgaria has been charged for the behaviour of its fans, some of whom shouted racist chants and performed Nazi salutes. England, meanwhile, has been reprimanded for disrupting the Bulgarian national anthem and for failing to bring enough travelling stewards.
What do we not know?
If racism in football can be kicked out. Clubs and authorities are coming under pressure to implement more serious punishments. In Italy, where there are many problems with racist and far-right fans, Roma has just issued a lifetime ban to a fan who racially abused defender Juan Jesus on Instagram.

Word Watch

The capital of Bulgaria. The stadium was already half-empty, having been partially closed by UEFA after fans spouted racist abuse during two matches against Kosovo and the Czech Republic in June.
Very highly skilled in a particular area.
Gareth Southgate
He gained huge popularity during England’s semi-final World Cup run last year.
According to the latest figures from Kick It Out, an organisation fighting racism in football.
1970s and 1980s
“The bad old days are back!” declared retired black footballer Ian Wright earlier this year. Former footballer John Barnes has also spoken out about the racism he endured throughout his career.
Repeat offenders.


PDF Download

Please click on "Print view" at the top of the page to see a print friendly version of the article.